Colombian artist Fernando Botero is famous for his depictions of blimpy figures that verge on the ludicrous. New Yorkers may recall the outdoor display of Botero’s bronze figures, many of them nude, in the central islands of Park Avenue in 1993. Their bodily proportions insured that their nakedness aroused little in the way of public indignation. They were about as sexy as the Macy’s balloons, and their seemingly inflated blandness lent them the cheerful and benign look one associates with upscale folk art. The sculptures were a shade less ingratiating, a shade more dangerous than one of Walt Disney’s creations, but in no way serious enough to call for critical scrutiny. Though transparently modern, Botero’s style is admired mainly by those outside the art world. Inside the art world, critic Rosalind Krauss spoke for many of us when she dismissed Botero as “pathetic.”… When it was announced not long ago that Botero had made a series of paintings and drawings inspired by the notorious photographs showing Iraqi captives, naked, degraded, tortured and humiliated by American soldiers at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison, it was easy to feel skeptical–wouldn’t Botero’s signature style humorize and cheapen this horror?… As it turns out, his images of torture, now on view at the Marlborough Gallery in midtown Manhattan and compiled in the book Botero Abu Ghraib, are masterpieces of what I have called disturbatory art–art whose point and purpose is to make vivid and objective our most frightening subjective thoughts.
more from Danto at The Nation here.