Picassos Guernica is not in either the Facing Fascism exhibit at the Museum of the City of New York or the Barcelona and Modernity exhibit at the Met. But paintings like Suppliant Woman, above, also done in 1937, are tied to his masterpiece.
The pain in Spain was not in vain
By Jerry Tallmer
KOSLOW! thou shouldst be living at this hour. Whod a thunk it? All over New York theyre celebrating better yet, remembering, or (best of all) learning about the war you (illegally) sailed from New York to take part in shortly after New Years 1937. Seventy years ago.
It was called the Spanish Civil War. This country your country, my country was nervously, disastrously neutral, right down to an arms embargo that greatly hurt the side that was fighting the side that was being supported with arms aplenty (and bombing missions, and infantry) from Berlin and Rome.
The U.S. Department of State had also embargoed the passport of any American thinking of heading for Spain to help the Loyalists including, one may be sure, that of pint-sized Boys High dropout Albert B. Koslow of Brownsville, Brooklyn, whose résumé to that point had pretty much consisted of a warehouse on Morton Street, a button works on 34th Street, the hatcheck counter at a Longchamps, floating crapgames all over town rubbing shoulders with such as Meyer Lansky and Three Fingers Brown and one drizzly dawn in May 1927 when 17-year-old Garden City Hotel bellboy Koslow had awakened an aviator named Lindbergh to tell him the sky was clear enough for takeoff. To, as it turned out, Paris.
Why did you wake him up? Als gutsy, beautiful wife Sophie was to say to her husband more than once in later years. Her parents had died at Auschwitz. She wasnt too fond of anyone, any American Firster, whod been pals with Herman Goering the same Herman Goering whose Luftwaffe, in April 1937, soon after Al crossed from France into Spain past Fascist photographers at the border, would make mincemeat of a town called Guernica.
A few days before Picassos Guernica was leaving New Yorks Museum of Modern Art for the last time, to go home for keeps, to the Museo Reina Sofia in Madrid, I went and sat in front of it at MoMA for an hour or two, concentrating hard, trying to decide if it was really great or really, well, phony. The coin came down on great. I mean, its all there, isnt it? In colors without color. Mankind, womankind, child kind, animal kind, war, bombs, horror, cruelty, brutality, that century, this century, every century, and maybe, just maybe, the light of Hope.
The visitor will not find that actual painting in either the big nourishing Facing Fascism: New York & the Spanish Civil War exhibit thats at the Museum of the City of New York though August 12, or the stunning Barcelona and Modernity: Gaudi to Dali exhibit thats at the Metropolitan Museum of Art through June 3. But in those two current shows there is to be found virtually everything else that feeds into Picassos Guernica, and out of it, remembering always that this one painting, for going on 70 years now all those years since Al Koslow and 2,800 of his fellow American idealists (fools? heroes? cynics? comrades? innocents?) of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade set forth for Spain, 900 of them never to return has been the main source of knowledge or caring about the Spanish Civil War for three or four generations engulfed on all sides by junk culture and junk noise and junk journalism and junk TV and junk video games and junk history, right and left. Read Orwell. Read Hemingway.
Albert B. Koslow, born June 15, 1909, barely escaped death in 1937 at the hands of Francisco Francos turbaned Moors on a mountaintop near Cordova, Spain. He came back and spent a good, long, honest, radical-liberal life working as fund-raiser for the UJA, the Anti-Defamation League, the Urban League, and such, until death at last caught up with him (it had already taken Sophie) here in New York on February 15, 2007. He was 97. For many of those later years Al and Sophie lived down the hall from Frances and myself.
I think I know he would have been thrilled at the all-points super-informative Facing Fascism show of the arts, literature, films, news stuff, and everything else that Sarah M. Henry and Thomas Mellins have put together at the Museum of the City of New York in collaboration with Instituto Cervantes and ALBA (the Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives). As a lover of good painting he would have relished the art, architecture, and all else that William H. Robinson, Jordi Falgas, Magdalena Dabrowski, and Jared Goss have brought together at the Met.
Al would also have been greatly pleased (I like to suppose) at the latter-day participation in such events by various outcrops of NYU: its Tamiment Library, its Catalan Center, its Institute of Fine Arts, and, in particular, its King Juan Carlos I of Spain Center most ably headed by James D. Fernandez, who co-edited with Peter N. Carroll the thick, helpful Facing Fascism catalogue.
One thing more I know. Were he alive and walking (it got pretty slow toward the end), Al Koslow would have been at the 71st anniversary celebration of VALB (Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade), last month. In his heart, at least, he would have still been hurling in the face of Fascism the cry of No pasaran! They shall not pass!