Museum  September 13, 2023  Rebecca Schiffman

Reina Sofia Lifts Photo Ban on Picasso's Guernica

Wikimedia Commons

Installation view of Pablo Picasso's 1937 work, Guernica.

A few years ago, I visited the Reina Sofia museum in Madrid to see an art history masterpiece: Pablo Picasso’s Guernica (1937). Upon entering the room, I was told that there were no photos allowed, so I spent a decent amount of time taking in the work. It’s quite large and has a powerful story so it was nice to have time to let all the history sink in. When I was about to leave, though I knew I wasn't supposed to, I snapped a picture. Almost as soon as I clicked the camera, a security guard escorted me away from the crowd and watched as I deleted the photo. 

Now, visitors do not have to worry about having such an embarrassing and destabilizing experience like I did, because the Reina Sofia’s newly appointed director, Manuel Segade, made the decision to quietly change the policy to allow patrons to take photos of Guernica

According to The Times of London, the photo restrictions in the Guernica room have been lifted since September 1, but visitors are still not allowed to take pictures with flash or any tripods or selfie sticks. The ban was apparently lifted so that people can snap a photo and then move on to the next room in an effort to decrease the time that people spend in front of the painting. A spokesman said to the publication, “It only takes a few seconds to take a selfie and so the pace of the public will flow more.”

Wikimedia Commons

Reina Sofia exterior

Though this move is great in terms of allowing photographic accessibility, especially to the younger generations who are more reliant on screens, the reasoning behind the move is regrettable. While it aims to reduce the time viewers spend in front of the work for a respectable reason—visitor flow and traffic—it inadvertently diminishes the profound experience of engaging with the artwork. Allowing photographs may encourage superficial, distracted viewing, with visitors more focused on capturing an image for social media than truly absorbing the emotional impact of the painting. 

Take the Mona Lisa, for example, another masterpiece, this one at Paris's Louvre Museum. Photos of the work aren’t just allowed, but are snapped at a dizzying speed by hundreds of people who wait in a giant line to get their shot. As art critic Jonathan Jones so eloquently put it in his 2009 piece on the matter, "With a modicum of respectful quiet, this would be a rewarding experience for everyone." But, he noted, “the Louvre’s custodians stand by and let people yell, scream, and snap away.”

Picasso’s Guernica is a powerful anti-war statement, deserving of contemplation and reflection. Allowing photos risks diluting the solemnity and significance of the piece, undermining the depth of understanding and connection that can be achieved in front of such a historic and moving work of art. Looking back at my dramatic experience, I feel lucky to have had the moments of silent contemplation in front of Guernica, but acknowledge that I too had to get my picture and am as much a victim of contemporary culture as anyone else for whom these rules were designed. I just hope that the crowds are more respectful in Madrid than they are in Paris.

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