Nick Hackworth

Che Guevara, V&A Museum

Essays & Reviews Evening Standard

It is thought to be the most reproduced photograph in history: Che Guevara snapped by Alberto Korda in 1960. Taken from below, it captures Che, with a leather jacket, beret, wild hair and designer stubble, staring straight ahead, and thus above and beyond the viewer — a line of sight appropriate to a man of destiny.

Paris-Match and radical Italian publisher Feltrinelli had already used the image before Che’s death in 1967, at the hands of CIA-directed Bolivian forces, secured him immortality as an icon of romantic revolution. Since then, stylised and warped versions of the image have adorned everything from protest posters to beers, cigarette packets and porn mags, via canvases and prints by artists from Warhol to Gavin Turk.

The process by which such icons emerge and become drained of meaning through overuse is fascinating. But the show here, a collection of multiple manifestations of the Che portrait, adds little depth to the subject and merely presents a colourful succession of images. It would have been more effective to compare the reality of Che’s beliefs with the vacuity of the icon. As Mao Zedong pointed out, revolutions weren’t about album covers, but “acts of violence by which one class overthrows another”.

Until 28 August. Information: 020 7942 2000