Botero is something of a Colombian folk hero. The Museo Botero in Bogotá houses his work and private collection; he designed the label for a popular brand of rum. His work is both highly priced at auction and widely collected. Still, critics and contemporary artists have derided him for his attachment to figurative style and positive, or at least placid, portrayal of national life, even at a time when the country and its people were suffering from serious violence and instability. Ten years ago, he reconceived of his theory of art and its purpose, creating a series of works about Colombia’s long and bloody war; his next was about American torture and prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib. (Of this set, the Los Angeles Times wrote
, “Botero’s new works may seem as startling as if
late in his career had begun painting My Lai massacre scenes.”) In downtown Medellín, there is an outdoor sculpture of a bird that was partially destroyed during a major, allegedly drug war-related explosion that occurred there in 1995. (That same year, Botero painted the serene The House with a Woman at the Door
.) Honoring the artist’s wishes, the city has left the sculpture in place and unrepaired as a reminder of the violent past.