From Chagall to Portinari, the works treasured by the UN in New York

Chagall, Moore, Léger, Portinari, desert scenes in gold and precious stones. Over almost eight decades, the UN headquarters in New York has accumulated valuable gifts from countries and individuals that make it another attractive tourist stop in the Big Apple.

Before the covid, visitors could explore history and geopolitics through a good part of the almost 400 works donated by 150 countries of its 193 members.

“We are not a museum,” warns Werner Schmidt, the official in charge of overseeing this unique and eclectic heritage.

In the image of the organization, which was born in 1945 to work towards peace and harmony in the world, its funds are the expression of historical moments, artistic trends and even particularities of the countries that have given them as gifts, a reflection of a diverse and changing reality.

Some of them have ceased to exist, such as the German Democratic Republic, Yugoslavia or the Soviet Union. Others have also been born.

Among the most spectacular works are the murals of the Brazilian Cándido Portinari “Guerra y Paz”, which flank the entrance that leads to the General Assembly, the heart of the organization.

“At the entrance, the delegates see a landscape of war and despair and at the exit, a world in peace and harmony,” in an allegory of the UN’s objective: to settle differences through dialogue, Schmidt told AFP.

Marc Chagall himself traveled to the UN in 1964 to deliver his “Window”, a glass painting -today with some damage-, the result of a collection by UN officials after the death of one of its most emblematic general secretaries, Dag Hammarskjöld, and fifteen collaborators, in a plane crash when he was going to mediate in the conflict in Katanga, Zaire, in 1961.

His admiration for Hammarskjöld also led the sculptor Henry Moore to donate his Reclining Figure which is exhibited in the organization’s gardens.

– Golden oasis –

The Mexican muralist Rufino Tamayo contributed “La Fraternidad” to these collections, among which stands out a fabulous Iranian carpet, hanging from the gigantic walls of the delegates’ cafeteria, an everyday scene of an oasis in the Saudi desert in solid gold, a gift from Saudi Arabia, and another donation from neighboring Bahrain, a gold palm tree and bunches of pearls like dates.

African pieces, a gigantic Chinese vase, furniture by renowned designers or a tapestry that represents the horrors left by the explosion of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant enrich this acerbic.

In the gardens, a monumental work by American artist Barbara Hepborth, one of the few women in the collection, stands out.

Others are linked to the history of the country that donated it, such as “Man Rising”, by the former East German sculptor Fritz Cremer, who intended to reflect the success of the communist regime but turned the country’s intellectuals against him.

A little further on, stands the monumental sculpture of Saint George and the dragon, donated by the former Soviet Union, built with nuclear missile casings.

Or the reproduction of the metal tablet or “geregee”, a passport in the time of Genghis Khan that assured its bearers food and horses within the confines of his gigantic Mongol empire.

The General Assembly hall is flanked by two abstract frescoes by the painter Fernand Léger, who looked like “eggs and bacon” and “a rabbit out of a hat” to the American president of the time Harry Truman, and no one has ever dared to contradict him. remembers Schmidt.

As the United States did not grant Léger a visa to be able to paint them in situ, the French painter turned to other hands to make his paintings, a gift, it is just known, from Nelson Rockefeller, a great patron of the multilateral organization that It is in New York, and not in Philadelphia, thanks to the 8 million dollars it donated to buy the land where it sits today.

His heirs have just removed from the UN a loaned tapestry with a replica of Pablo Picasso’s Guernica, who had presided over the entry of the Security Council for decades, as a reminder to his delegates of the consequences of armed conflict.

Any country can donate a work. “It has to be art that does not disturb other countries, that speaks for everyone in the same positive language,” concludes Schmidt.

af / gm / lda

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *