"Guernica" was powerful public agit-prop. Picasso marshaled grand scale, figurative distortion, mythic narrative and a stark palette of black and white that derived from newspaper accounts of the awful event. At the 1937 Paris International Exposition, where the mural-size canvas had its public debut before an international tour, its prominence in the Spanish Pavilion meant to grab viewers by the lapels. A distracted world was shaken into awareness.
Warhol obviously didn't need to do that for the Kennedy assassination. By the '60s, television's instant communication took care of galvanizing the public.
In fact, his paintings worked against the media manipulation that Picasso deftly exploited. Warhol's weeping woman was smudged, repetitive and unemotional. Jackie presents high contrast and low information, all available in mute mathematical permutations — four panels, eight, 16 or even an entire roomful, as Castelli soon showed them.
Warhol was happy having JFK as president, but he was largely unmoved by the assassination. "[It] didn't bother me that much that he was dead," the artist later said, comparing the public pageant of mourning for Kennedy to a moving funeral for an anonymous peasant that he once stumbled on in India.
"What bothered me was the way the television and radio were programming everybody to feel so sad," he said. "It seemed like no matter how hard you tried, you couldn't get away from the thing." Media manipulation was a new way of life in postwar America.
Warhol's weeping women are cold, Picasso's are hot. Picasso's boil over, Warhol's remain numb. Picasso's are violently intimate, Warhol's passively remote. Picasso prized individual heroics, Warhol disappeared into the crowd.
But like Picasso, Warhol understood that art can function as a powerful social lever. His emotionally neutered Jackie portraits used American popular culture as a weapon, not a target. Warhol's icy weeping woman put Picasso squarely in the cross hairs — Picasso and all the accumulated mythologies and pretensions of established Modern art.
The younger artist had no choice. For as long as art's old aesthetic machismo held sway, there simply was no room for the likes of him. So, with the deliberateness of an assassin, Warhol coolly killed it off.