Lene Berg’s Stalin by Picasso, or Portrait of Woman with Moustache
is one work and three: a book; a video; and a set of three banners, one picturing Stalin, one Picasso, and one Berg holding over her face a 1953 drawing of Stalin by Picasso, to be hung on a building’s facade. (Triple Canopy
gave the video its US premiere at our April launch party.) She intended to debut the works on March 5, 2008, the fifty-fifth anniversary of Stalin’s death, at the People’s Theater in Oslo, and received approval in September 2007. In January, permission for the banners was revoked by the building’s board; press inquiries revealed that an offended Martin Kolberg, secretary of the Labor Party (Arbeiderpartiet, or Ap), had intervened. (The People’s Theater houses Ap headquarters.) A subsequent invitation to raise the banners on the City Hall of Bergen, Norway, came to nothing, except another uproar. One headline read, JA TIL STALIN!—Yes to Stalin!
New York City’s Cooper Union college approached Berg in August about an autumn show; she agreed, if she could hang the banners on the school’s historic Foundation Building, as well as display the book and video. The exhibit opened as planned October 29. Then, on October 31, without notifying Berg, the administration had the banners removed. Berg learned of this from exhibition curator Sara Reisman on November 1 and demanded her show be shut down. Only on November 6 did the college issue a statement, which blamed a permit violation. It also mentioned the seventy-fifth anniversary, on November 15, of the Holodomor, the forced starvation of millions of Ukrainians by Stalin, which the neighborhood’s Ukrainian community was planning to commemorate nearby.
What follows are video excerpts of Stalin by Picasso
; documentation of the installation, controversy, and de-installation, in the form of materials provided by Berg and culled from the Internet; and a statement.
—Sam Frank, November 13, 2008