Picasso’s Heritage

© Sander Buyck Van Abbemuseum's depo.

In June 2011, a single painting of Pablo Picasso was presented at the International Academy of Art in Ramallah. The value of the painting at this time was seven million euros (insurance value). The legend has it that this was the first time a work of an European Master was presented in Palestine. Much has been written about Picasso in Palestine: neither the contemporary art scene in Ramallah had ever received such generous media coverage, nor had the Van Abbemuseum in the south of the Netherlands, which loaned one of the most expensive work in its collection, gained such level of international acclaim.

‘Picasso in Palestine’ became a symbol of the triumph of art over the crimes of the occupation, as it transformed the decoration on the walls of the United Nations to a war machine. But what really happened there? Who ensured to bring the precious piece to its destination? Who were the collaborators who rendered the project possible? It is clear to everyone that there is no possibility of smuggling seven million euros from Schiphol airport to the International Academy of Art in Ramallah without collaborators who helped from the inside.

‘Picasso’s heritage’ is a video essay about gender, occupation, friendship, art and heritage; through this constellation, the video essay reveals the hidden story of how an art work by the most important artist of the 20th century was transferred to a region under military occupation. The video essay begins with an innocent question: If a painting by Marc Chagall had been loaned to the International Academy of Art in Palestine, not a Picasso painting, would the project have developed in a similar fashion? Did the ghost of Pablo Picasso — a painter, freedom fighter and misogynist — come to life and take control over the project? And is it possible to separate the work of the artist from his heritage? Where did all the heroines of the project disappear to? 

Films, academic articles, art reviews, thesis papers and doctoral dissertations have been written extensively on the project. The obstacles encountered on route by the expensive masterpiece to its destination in Area A; a Palestinian area controlled by the Palestinian Authority , have been publicised. Some researchers have focused on the policies and administration that accompany the question of transporting a work of art from its collection in a European museum to an area defined by insurance companies as a war zone. Others have focused on the occupation and the power of art to breach borders. But only one researcher has dared to ask: is it even logical that an art work with an insurance value of seven million euros travel through a military checkpoint without prior coordination with the Israeli Ministry of Defence or any political permeation? What did Samar Kawasmi (the driver from East Jerusalem, who led the painting from Ben Gurion Airport to the academy in Ramallah) try to tell the media and had his mouth shut every time?

How did the preparatory work take place and who are the collaborators whose identity was kept secret and whose existence has not been exposed to the media to this day? Why was the museum’s conservator so worried about climate change? ‘Buste de Femme’, painted in 1943 in Paris during WWII. Is the painting that came to Ramallah, purchased by the Van Abbemuseum after the war (1957), is one of the paintings in the museum’s possession that are suspected of being confiscated from Jewish families?

Picasso in Palestine has excited many. ‘Picasso’s heritage’ will focus on parts of the story that have not been told to this day. Bringing a new interest in the project and the matter of gender inequality, gatekeeping — checkpoints that exist not only between Ramallah and Jerusalem, but inside cultural institutions.

The project is supported by: