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Botero Art Book "Abu Ghraib" Has Good Sale in U.S.

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By Sherwood Ross

NEW YORK, N.Y. --- The initial 6,000 print run of a 112-page book of 86 shocking color illustrations by Colombian artist Fernando Botero depicting the torture of Iraqi prisoners titled "Abu Ghraib" is selling well in the United States and will be reprinted, a spokesman for Prestel Publishing here said.

"Considering this is not the kind of book you would give to your Aunt May for the holidays, we are encouraged that a book on a difficult subject is selling well," said Stephen Hulburt, the North American marketing director for Prestel. The book went on sale only in October.

Priced at $35, the book is enjoying a brisk sale at art museums and galleries, Hulbert said, although he said it is too early yet to obtain precise figures. One thousand copies shipped to the Marlboro Gallery in Manhattan that exhibited the "Abu Ghraib" paintings, sold out, as did the supply at Amazon.com. The book is also being distributed in book stores chains Barnes & Noble and Borders Books.

Hulburt attributed the book's better-than-expected sales to stories in the New York Times, New York Sun, and on National Public Radio. He says Prestel will follow up with a new paperback volume titled "Fernando Botero" on the general body of his works next year priced at $19.95.

"Surprisingly," Hulburt said, "apart from one angry e-mail, there's been no negative reaction to the book, and no complaints from politicians. It's selling best on both coasts and in some big cities in the Midwest. What we're seeing is a mostly positive response even though it's a book on a difficult subject."

Hulburt said "Abu Ghraib" fits in with the historic tradition of protest art such as Goya's "Disasters of War" about the Napoleonic occupation of Spain, Picasso's "Guernica" about the Spanish bombed by Hitler, and Botero's own 1990s paintings about Colombian drug war violence. He said Prestel is not a political publishing house and "we present our books as art."

Asked why he departed from his usually humorous subject matter, Botero told the Associated Press, "I, like everyone else, was shocked by the barbarity (of Abu Ghraib), especially because the United States is supposed to be this model of compassion."

Abu Ghraib prison is located about 20 miles west of Baghdad and held about 5,000 Iraqis. According to David Ebony, "Guards regarded the detainees as terrorists rather than as prisoners of war" and ignored their rights under the Geneva Convention.

"Allusions to Christian iconography from Medieval and early Renaissance art are apparent (in the book), despite the irony of using Christian motifs in the depiction of Islamic men and women," Ebony wrote.

"Botero's cry of outrage expressed in the Abu Ghraib series," Ebony continued, "is an attempt to help shift the attention of the public toward the timely and timeless issues of peace and humanity. Coming from an artist known for images of pleasure during a time of war and terror, the gruesome and violent scenes he depicts are exceptionally disturbing and moving. He joins a long list of artists who have passionately responded to tumultuous current events outside the rarefied ambiance of a successful artist's studio."

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Sherwood Ross worked as a reporter for the Chicago Daily News and contributed a regular "Workplace" column for Reuters. He has contributed to national magazines and hosted a talk show on WOL, Washington, D.C. In the Sixties he was active as public (more...)
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