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The journalist Edgar Alfonzo-Sierra interviews the Venezuelan artist Meyer Vaisman. The interview begins with a description of the artist and a mention of two occasions—the Bienal Christian Dior (Caracas, 1989) and the XLVI Biennale di Venezia (1995)—when Vaisman was the center of attention. The article includes some biographical information, such as his departure from Venezuela when he was eighteen years old and his life in New York, where he attained a measure of renown. The main subject of discussion is the artist’s critical view of the Venezuelan cultural scene, which he compares to “a great theater without a script.” Vaisman briefly explains why he has returned, and talks about his recent works and art exhibitions. It is 1999 and he also talks about politics, referring to the debate on the new Venezuelan Constitution, and puts on his sociological hat to list what are typical Venezuelan traits, in his opinion.
“A fuego lento” is a regular column in the newspaper El Nacional that publishes interviews with notable people. In the 1990s—according to Edgar Alfonzo-Sierra—Meyer Vaisman (b. 1960) and his art were controversial; one of the best-known Venezuelan artist on the international stage, he decided to return to his country after spending eighteen years in New York, where he had enjoyed early success. As revealed in the interview, Vaisman has some unfortunate experiences back in Venezuela. In 1989 he won the first prize at the Bienal Christian Dior, which caused some ill will in the local art world. The reaction to his arrival is captured in two articles published in El Nacional by the journalist Margarita D’Amico: “Con el fuego de los dioses,” September 21, 1989, and “Vaisman: por la gracia de Dior,” October 10, 1989. In the first article, the journalist writes sarcastically that “they say he is ‘famous’ but his work underwhelms.” Once the jury reveals its decision about the prize, D’Amico attacks Vaisman again in her second article, stating flatly that his work is “bad,” no matter who says he is the successor to Francis Picabia or Andy Warhol. Six years later, in 1995, his work Verde por fuera, rojo por dentro was chosen to represent Venezuela at the XLVI Biennale di Venezia, but some groups and authorities argued against the work because they said it referred to urban shanty towns and therefore to the belt of poverty that encircles Caracas. Under the circumstances, Vaisman declined the invitation.
Though decidedly subjective (due to the artist’s pain and sense of betrayal and indignation), the interview is a valuable record of the actual experience of a sensitive artist, such as Vaisman. His comments reveal negative sides of the Venezuelan cultural and sociopolitical world, including a regrettable meanness, destructive power struggles, and an all-around lack of seriousness. With regard to art, Vaisman mentions that the “über young” have little grounding in art history; many of them do not know the artists from the 1970s. He indicates that it is not easy to get to know what these artists have done since there are no monographs about contemporary artists.
Another important aspect of the interview is that Vaisman is speaking (in 1999) at an important moment in Venezuelan history, when the adoption of a new Constitution is being debated. On this subject, he mentions what he considers to be a “Venezuelan” trait that affects art: the fact that there will never be any continuity in Venezuela because the country always has to start again.