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This article was written by the art critic and gallery owner Eduardo Serrano for El Tiempo, Colombia’s largest newspaper, in response to the official decision to award no prizes at the XXIII Salón de Artistas Nacionales [XXIII National Artists’ Salon] in 1972. In “El primer Salón oficial” [The First Official Salon] Serrano explains the negative effects of the official ruling, referring to the complaints expressed by Colombian artists concerning the competitive and deifying nature of the Salon. He particularly addresses “the distortion of values implicit in the different levels of the staggered prizes” that bewilderingly honor works rendered in a variety of different techniques by both established and experimental artists. He states that artists expect juries to define selection criteria that support their decisions, and particularly consider how the recent decision impacts contemporary Colombian art. According to Serrano, one of the most critical consequences of eliminating the prizes is that it “shuts one of the few doors open to the country’s young artists.”
Eduardo Serrano Rueda (b.1939), the art critic and director of the Galería Belarca in Bogotá wrote this article twenty days after the announcement concerning the XXIII Salón de Artistas Nacionales [XXIII National Artists’ Salon] (Colombia) from the Junta Asesora de Artes Plásticas del Instituto Colombiano de Cultura [Visual Arts Advisory Board of the Colombian Cultural Institute] (Colcultura). This Board organized the event and acted as the selection jury in Bogotá, Cali, Medellín, and Barranquilla. Serrano thinks it ironic that some members of the Board—including artists who had won national prizes at previous editions of the Salon, such as the artists Pedro Alcántara (b. 1942), Manuel Hernández (b. 1928), and Juan Antonio Roda (1921–2003), who later resigned—should have promoted and voted in favor of the decision to suppress all financial assistance to artists. He says the national contest is in a state of crisis. In his article “El XXIII Salón Nacional” [The XXIII National Salon] published in El Tiempo (26 July 1973) Serrano mentions the “poor quality of the works” exhibited at the previous edition of the Salon. He explains that the Salon is in a state of transition and hints at a new openness to submissions. Serrano was among the critics who were bitterly opposed to the official decision. So much so that he supported the first Salón Nacional de Artes Plásticas de la Universidad Jorge Tadeo Lozano [Visual Arts National Salon at the Jorge Tadeo Lozano University] in October 1972—as an alternative to the “Salón oficial” [Official Salon]—where thirty prizes were handed out to participating artists. He wrote an earlier article when the decision was published in the same newspaper: “El asesinato del Salón” [The Assassination of the Salon] (El Tiempo, Bogotá, 18 August 1972). The essay “El primer Salón oficial” [The First Official Salon]helps to explain the Salon’s crisis, and scolds the Board for stating that “the artists’ protests only exists in the minds of a ‘small group.’” Meanwhile, the writer Antonio Montaña wrote an article in the same Bogotá newspaper, in which he declared Serrano’s criticism invalid on the grounds that the author was a gallery owner. He put it like this: “(…) now came Eduardo Serrano, a gallery owner, wearing a critic’s hat; but criticism from an art merchant is, for obvious reasons, invalid. One always suspects ulterior motives behind any aesthetic reasons to defend a particular work” (50 años, Salón Nacional de Artistas [National Artists’ Salon: 50 Years], ed. Camilo Calderón Schrader, Bogotá: Instituto Colombiano de Cultura [Colombian Cultural Institute], Colcultura, 1990).