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Stalin by Picasso or Portrait of Woman with Moustache
Lene Berg

After the death of Josef Stalin in 1953, Picasso drew a portrait of the Soviet leader which was published in the communist newspaper Les Lettres Francaises together with obituaries and praise. To the surprise of both Picasso and the editor Louis Aragon, the portrait spurred strong reactions. Picasso was accused of drawing a ‘ridiculous’ and ‘fake’ portrait that did not embody the greatness of the deceased leader. In Stalin by Picasso… Lene Berg reconstructs what was later known as The Portrait Affair with collages consisting of pictures, texts and archival material in a film resembling a storyboard. The lo-fi aesthetics in combination with the matter-of-factly narrator underlines the absurdity and complexity of a scandal that had its roots in a simple charcoal drawing.

Fast-forward 50 years, as part of an exhibition at the Cooper Union in New York in 2008, Berg exhibited a large reproduction of Picasso’s drawing on the façade of the building. This time as well the portrait drew strong reactions from certain groups, only this time the drawing was accused of honoring the dictator. Cooper Union removed the banner after two days, and Berg closed the exhibition. The attack on the banner is a reminder that Berg’s film not only deals with an historic event, but that it also points at contemporary attitudes towards image-making and portraits. 

Keywords Montage, Drama, Documentary, Power
Aspect ratio 1.33:1 (4:3)
Prod. format Generic SD-video
Duration 00:31:00
Language English
Color Color
Year 2008
Latest screening Feb 28, 2012
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About the artist

Lene Berg

Lene Berg, born 1965, is a Norwegian film director and visual artist based in Berlin and Oslo. Her main media is film and moving image, but her artistic praxis also includes installation, collage, photography, and text; and she has produced a number of projects in public space. She studied film at Dramatiska Institutet in Stockholm and has directed four independently produced feature films as well as a number of short films and mixed-media artworks and installations for galleries, museums, and public spaces.  Berg’s autobiographical film False Belief  premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival in 2019 and was nominated for the Amnesty and Teddy Award. She represented Norway in the 55th Venice Biennale with the film Dirty Young Loose (2013). In 2022 she did the Festival Exhibition at Bergen Kunsthall, which is considered the most important solo presentation of a Norwegian artist in the country. In 2023 she published her first novel, Fra far/From father at Kolon.

Berg’s work has been shown at Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin; Kunstnernes Hus, Oslo; Henie Onstad Kunstsenter; Konsthall C, Stockholm; Whitechapel Gallery, London; Art in General, New York. She has participated in a number of group exhibitions and biennales such as Manifesta; the Biennale of Sydney; the Taipei Biennial; Contour Mechelen and Transmediale Berlin.