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In the introduction to the book Procesos del arte en Colombia [Processes of Art in Colombia] (1978), Colombian historian Álvaro Medina asserts that Andrés de Santamaría was well ahead of his time in Colombian art; it was thanks to his influence that an anti-academic stance that eschewed all strains of formalism was able to take shape in Colombia. According to Medina, different historians—among them Luis Alberto Acuña, Walter Engel, and Marta Traba—have provided different analyses of this anti-academic turn. Unlike other countries in the region like Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, and Cuba, in Colombia it is difficult to pinpoint a specific event that marked a radical shift in art history. What Medina does see is a first moment (which he calls an “aperture”) characterized by a “parsimonious and timid move away from academicism, a steady motion that eventually gave shape to an art for the 20th century.” Though this book partakes of intellectual concerns and historical reevaluations based on Marxist method, Medina explains and criticizes Marxist interpretations of Colombian art history and its revisions, singling out for criticism a book by artist Clemencia Lucena. In closing, Medina presents the essays in the volume and the grounds for their inclusion.
Procesos del arte en Colombia (1978) is a crucial book in Colombian historiography because of the innovative theses formulated by critic and art historian Álvaro Medina (born 1942) on the beginnings of Modern art in Colombia. In the introduction, Medina responds critically to the article by artist Clemencia Lucena (1945–1983) published in the Estravagario supplement to the newspaper El Pueblo (Cali, April 4, 1976) entitled “El revisionismo en la crítica y la pintura colombiana” [Revisionism in Colombian Critique and Painting]. In 1975, Lucena had published “Anotaciones políticas sobre la pintura colombiana” [Political Notes on Colombian Painting], which Medina also refuted in articles published in two different supplements, one to the Diario del Caribe and the other in the aforementioned Estravagario. In Lucena’s view, Medina undertook “the task of ‘demonstrating’ that the book Anotaciones políticas sobre la pintura colombiana was simply erroneous, and that the approach and method of ‘researcher’ Medina—which was born of extensive study—were the sole sources of truth.” (That article is included in Clemencia Lucena’s book La revolución, el arte, la mujer [Revolution, Art, and Woman] published posthumously (Bogotá: Bandera Roja, 1984)). Pertinent to understanding the debate is the fact that Lucena was active in the Maoist MOIR (Movimiento Obrero Independiente Revolucionario) and Medina in the pro-Soviet PCC (Partido Comunista Colombiano).
After that exchange of articles, Medina further responded in the introduction to Procesos del arte en Colombia, stating that “in the specific field of Colombian art history, so-called Marxist perspectives are a true outrage, promoting texts that contain generalities and, hence, lack reliable information on pivotal moments and their specificity, and the way they yielded a given language.” This context explains why Medina entitled his introduction “Para entrar a combate” [Going to Battle].
Upon returning to Colombia from New York, Medina was a regular contributor to the Sunday supplement to the newspaper Diario del Caribe (Barranquilla) from 1973 to 1977. While doing research for the book, Medina gave a seminar on Colombian art at the Universidad Nacional de Colombia (1974–77) and directed the radio program Orientación plástica on the Radio Nacional (1974–75). He was a professor at the Instituto de Investigaciones Estéticas of the Universidad Nacional de Colombia, and he is currently an independent researcher.