Gernika/Guernica at One Chase Plaza
While Bo and I were goofing around the financial district the other day we decided to check out Anita Glesta's site-specific work Gernika/Guernica at One Chase Manhattan Plaza. Sponsored by the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, Glesta's mixed-media sculpture commemorates, through oral history, the 70th anniversary of the fascist carpet bombing—and subsequent civilian slaughter—of the Basque town Gernika during the Spanish Civil War, as well as paying homage to Picasso's painting "Guernica" that brought worldwide attention to the massacre. It is, Bo and I thought, a compelling concept that falters in its execution, but still worth seeing if you happen to be strolling through the area. If nothing else, it gave me an excellent excuse to play history professor with my daughter!
Here's how it works: scattered about the giant planters on the western end of the Plaza are eight individual, motion activated bronze speakers that play, at an unbelievably loud volume, in English and Spanish, the recorded memory of a Gernika survivor. On top of each speaker sits a small bronze sculpture, disembodied, if you will, from Picasso's masterpiece: a bull's horn, a foot, a hand, a heart. Problem is, the oral history struck me as too generic to be genuinely moving—lots of memories of "bright flashes" and "heat" and such, all of which is tragic to be sure, but not terribly revelatory. And the scale of the pieces felt off, too. I somehow wanted them to be bigger, perhaps to compete a little more firmly with Chase's monument to money looming above.
Obviously, the location of Gernika/Guernica a few blocks from the pit where once stood the Twin Towers is no accident either. But are there any parallels between the two events, other than the slaughter of civilians? Does there need to be? Hmmmm...
Gernika/Guernica will be on display at the western end of One Chase Manhattan Plaza through July 12. Photo op alert! If you're visiting from out of town, and you plan on walking around this area anyway, may I suggest stopping by the Plaza to see Jean DuBuffet's Group of Four Trees, pictured at right (click on image to enlarge), which does hold its own nicely below the skyscraper.