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This article formulates the question of artistic freedom from the perspective of the dominance of abstract over figurative tendencies, which Colombian painter Gonzalo Ariza attributes to cultural agents, critics, and art dealers active in Colombia in the late 1950s. Ariza states that the origin of the attack on figurative art in the international context dates to the censorship of Diego Rivera’s mural in Rockefeller Center in New York in 1933. In the Colombian context, Ariza explores the scope of what he deems persecution on the basis of specific incidents and the schedule of exhibitions planned for the recently opened exhibition space at the Biblioteca Luis Ángel Arango of the Banco de la República in Bogotá.
In November 1957, the exhibition space at the Luis Ángel Arango Library of the Banco de la República opened in Bogotá; the library’s reading rooms did not open until February 1958. The work of Colombian painter Gonzalo Ariza (1912–1995) revolved around the landscapes of Colombia; he was influenced by Japanese techniques he learned while he was studying in Tokyo (1936–38). Ariza begins this article praising the library for having held an exhibition of Alipio Jaramillo (1913–1999), an artist who had suffered censorship when some of his murals were removed from the Universidad Nacional de Colombia Law School in 1953. Ariza argues that this show of Jaramillo’s work served to undermine the seemingly “abstractionist” tendency of the library’s exhibition space.
What Ariza calls “abstractionism” actually encompasses a range of tendencies in which artists address a specific thematic reference while developing a pictorial or sculptural language that partakes of geometric explorations, that is, languages influenced by artists like Pablo Picasso and Paul Klee. Insofar as these disparate tendencies do not constitute a readily identifiable movement, Ariza’s assertion that “abstractionism” is useful to the capitalist art establishment may seem ungrounded. Nonetheless, in the context of the time his comment was important in that it began to articulate the basis for the debates on art and politics that ensued in Colombia in the sixties and seventies.