This story is rich.
February 25, 2021: “UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The iconic tapestry of Pablo Picasso’s “Guernica” is gone from its place of honor outside the U.N. Security Council in the United Nations headquarters complex overlooking New York’s East River.”
Picasso commissioned three tapestry replicas of Guernica (though in brown tones rather than grays) to travel in its place, for the canvas was too fragile. John D. Rockefeller’s grandson bought one in 1955 and kept it in his Albany home (he was Nelson A. Rockefeller, four-time governor of New York). In the mid-1980’s, several years after his colorful death, his family loaned it to the United Nations. The Rockefellers have taken it back.
And just last week, we lost the 747–a spacious airplane, yes, with a spiral of steps up to a cocktail lounge. What called itself the modern world is really dying before our eyes, it seems some days. But how much of its substance will turn out to have been like Nelson’s tapestry, merely on loan? Someone’s whim, in effect: here today, for generations—gone already.
How much of what impressed us about the modern world was at its core some rich man’s preening, or public conciliation, or hypertrophic idée fixe?
Will enough people keep watching old movies to keep it alive?
(From Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest, which made a thing of beauty from the United Nations; images appear in this terrific article on the UN art collection.)
To a large extent, the physical reality we take for granted—our cities, structures, systems—represents a kind of vegetal outgrowth of private wealth accumulation and its processes. Buildings and colleges, corporations and concert halls, Hollywood, airlines, hospitals, professional sports: they all exist because some men and women have had so much more money than everyone else, the mind starts to reel. Money so big it’s like Lake Michigan, tidal, of a nature to flow back out and erect a world to surround the relatively penniless—that is, the rest of us; a modern world, once.
After the modern world, all we have is the present. Mainly short-term aspirations find a voice in its atmosphere, which is thin and noisy. Instead of building hospitals, the great-great-grandchildren of private fortunes conceal their connectedness and cast phantasmagoria at the eyes of the poor, those streamers. And the old projection men of the modern world, roll up their war scenes and go home.