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This text is an essay by the art historian Mariana Figarella published in the book Los Ochenta. Panorama de las artes visuales en Venezuela (Caracas: Galería de Arte Nacional, n.d. ). Divided into seven sections, the essay begins with a description of the historical/ political background of that decade. From that historical perspective, Figarella sets forth the constant elements of the visual arts in that period, which she reviews at the end by way of conclusion. They are: the arrival of the Post-Modern stance; the market’s important role as a determinant of art activities; the weakening of criticism; the new role of the artist; the mass consumption of culture; and the “fall” of the great systems of thought. Finally, the writer states that if there was anything “significant” in that decade, it is that it marked the death and simultaneous birth of a new phase of culture, still in search of a definition.
The book Los Ochenta. Panorama de las artes visuales en Venezuela was published in connection with the exhibition with the same title held in December 1990 at the Galería de Arte Nacional. It includes four essays, starting with “La década impensable” by Luis Enrique Pérez Oramas; the second is Luis Ángel Duque’s essay entitled “La década prodigiosa” [ICAA digital archive (doc. no. 1051483)]. The third is this essay, and the fourth is “Sobre la crítica de arte en Venezuela,” written by Juan Carlos Palanzuela. The book also provides a chronology of the 1980s.
As a historical overview, Figarella’s essay is instructive and well documented. The writer took care to organize the content chronologically and to structure the text in an orderly way, from its hypotheses to its conclusions. While the issues she addresses are general, they are also key: the signs and constant elements in the Venezuelan visual arts of that decade; the influence of the ideas of Post-Modernity (Lyotard, Habermas and Baudrillard); and the rise of what was known as the “Transvanguardia Internacional” [Achille Bonito Oliva, Milán, 1983] which announced the “return of painting” (as a value) to art. In fact, Figarella explains that this phenomenon established a strong hold on Venezuela, and she provides a good record of related artists and painting trends. Similarly, she points out the events and cultural policies of public and private institutions that were important—for better or for worse—at that time in the Venezuelan art world (museums, galleries, Salons, prizes).
Apart from certain very personal opinions that have been challenged at the time, the text remains an effective overview of that (recent) Venezuelan past, covering artists, exhibitions, prizes and the most significant influences. Both the exhibition and the book on the 1980s were the subject of criticism and controversy in the press. Particular exception to Figarella’s text was expressed by some photographers and by the artist Carlos Zerpa, who published the article “80: Una versión disparatada,” in El Nacional (December 29, 1990) (doc. no. 1051973).