Critics’ Picks

The corpse of Che Guevara in the laundry room of the hospital San José de Malta Vallegrande, Bolivien 10. October 1967, color photograph, 11 3/4 x 15 3/4".

The corpse of Che Guevara in the laundry room of the hospital San José de Malta Vallegrande, Bolivien 10. October 1967, color photograph, 11 3/4 x 15 3/4".

Vienna

“Che Guevara”

WestLicht
Westbahnstraße 40
May 26–July 31, 2008

It is one of the most reproduced photographs in the world: Alberto Korda’s 1960 portrait of Che Guevara, taken at a speech given by Fidel Castro. The image became an icon of the student movement; the photogenic doctor and revolutionary became synonymous with liberation and resistance. Dr. Alfred Weidinger, the vice director of the Belvedere, began his collection—which currently contains over three hundred shots of the revolutionary hero—with this photograph. In this selection of 150 portraits, there are images of Guevara doing construction work, speaking at a podium, and striking a heroic pose, with a visionary’s gaze into the distance. There are more intimate images of him playing chess—with and without cigar—and basic portraits of him looking serious, smiling, or seeming lost in thought. The sight of his dynamic face never grows tiring, in both the world-famous and the lesser-known photos by Korda, Osvaldo Salas, and Rene Burri; they all attempt to capture the radiance of a man who was immortalized even during his lifetime.

In addition to a few images taken in Cuba during the revolution, there is one photograph that stands out from the other portraits of the Argentine who would have turned eighty this spring: his body in the laundry room of a Bolivian hospital, laid out for the press after his bloody end on October 8, 1967. Guevara was shot nine times, evidence that his executioner had no easy task on his hands. The Bolivian government’s attempt to strip Guevara of cult status by presenting the sight of his savaged body failed completely, as is evidenced by the enormous public interest in this exhibition.