Over 52 years ago, on July 20, 1969, the world came to a standstill as humans landed on the moon for the very first time. Hundreds of millions sat glued to their television sets, watching in awe as iconic images of Neil A. Armstrong descending Apollo 11 and stepping foot on the rocky lunar surface beamed back to Earth in one of the most widely viewed broadcasts in TV history. For many, it was a deeply poignant, indelible moment, the kind that happens only once or twice in one’s lifetime.
But others were unmoved by the spectacle, perhaps most famously artist Pablo Picasso, whose quote in a New York Times roundup of reactions to the landing the following day remains an impressive display of apathy even in today’s notoriously cynical, meh-centric culture: “It means nothing to me. I have no opinion about it, and I don’t care,” Picasso told the Times.
Pablo Picasso quoted in the New York Times on July 21, 1969 (screenshot edited by the author; via NYT Time Machine)
The artist’s meager statement was published as part of a special two-page feature titled “Reactions to Man’s Landing on the Moon Show Broad Variations in Opinions.” It’s true that not everyone interviewed was celebratory — many saw the costly space mission as an overhyped, profligate waste of money. But even writer Vladimir Nabokov, who curtly stated that “the utilitarian results do not interest me,” acknowledged the “panic and splendor” of the event. Compared to another artist in the group, sculptor Jacques Lipchitz, who said the landing was “like humanity stepping out of the womb of nature,” Picasso’s muted response feels deliberately dismissive.
The Cubist pioneer was 88 at the time, and had by then witnessed and endured his fair share of life’s hardships. He painted his legendary canvas “Guernica” (1937) depicting the horrors of war, including death and dismemberment, in the aftermath of the Nazi bombardment of the Basque city during the Spanish Civil War. Plagued by poverty, loss, and depression at the outset of his career, he created works in somber blue-tinged greens and grays during his influential “Blue Period.” He also inflicted pain on others, accused of emotional abuse and misogyny by his partners and relatives.
Picasso’s boldly indifferent response to the lunar landing is often quoted, but rarely examined in the larger context of his life and career; still, given these personal experiences, one can see why the multimillion-dollar moonwalk of two American astronauts may not have exactly riveted the hardened artist.
In any case, there may be no better time than now to echo Picasso’s deadpan words, in the wake of billionaire Jeff Bezos’s offensively expensive, 11-minute flight to space on a phallic rocket ship. Dear Jeff: I have no opinion about it, and I don’t care.