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“Balas privadas, corazones públicos” [Private Bullets, Public Hearts] (1994) by the Colombian critic José Hernán Aguilar (b. 1952) is a chapter from the book Nueva imagen [New Image], which presented an overview of sociopolitical and artistic conditions in Colombia in the 1980s and early 1990s. It identifies the visual art aesthetics and programs of the period, and discusses their relationship to certain terms drawn from the postmodernist theory of Jacques Dérrida, such as arrêt de mort (death sentence), and Lacan’s fascinum. The text consists of an introduction and five sections: “Razones para querer” [Reasons for Loving], “La idea detrás de las figuraciones” [The Idea Behind Figurations], “Aquello que acciona una nebulosa” [What Triggers a Nebula], “Péndulo del deseo” [Pendulum of Desire], and “El juego del amor” [The Game of Love]. This material reveals the author’s knowledge of postmodern theory and its interpretation within the context of Colombian art during the period discussed above.


This excerpt from the book Nueva imagen [New Image], (1994) is important because it traces the transitions and changes in the visual arts in Colombia during the closing years of the twentieth century. It also defines the theories that sought to explain the motivations and inspirations of a “new” generation of artists (born between 1950 and 1960) whose aesthetic was based on a variety of influences and recycled ideas.


Nueva imagen (Bogotá: Galería Alfred Wild, 1994) also includes contributions by the art critic Carolina Ponce de León (b. 1955) and the cultural journalist Fernando Quiroz (b. 1964), both of whom are Colombians. The book has been criticized by some who consider it to be nothing but a marketing exercise. Aguilar’s essay, however, as mentioned above, sheds light on a little-researched period in the history of the country.


This text does an excellent job of explaining the connection between society and art in Colombia during the period in question by interweaving the country’s historical context with visual art trends, foreign theories, and the prevailing influences among local artists. A new generation of painters (in the 1980s) introduced a new system of symbols and their own reflections, while the 1990s generation of artists, according to Aguilar, expressed a “poetic density and formal purity” in their work. The author establishes a parallel between the 1980s and 1990s in Colombia which allows us to understand the reasons for changes such as “regressions” and aesthetic transformations. 


José Hernán Aguilar studied art history and audiovisual media at Swarthmore College (Swarthmore, Pennsylvania). He has been a member of the Concejo Asesor de Artes Plásticas del Instituto Colombiano de Cultura [Visual Arts Advisory Board at the Colombian Cultural Institute]; curated a number of art exhibitions; and was director of the Museo de Arte de la Universidad Nacional de Bogotá. He has also worked with institutions in Bogotá, such as the Museo de Arte Moderno, and the Luis Ángel Arango Library.

Eliana Salazar
Universidad de los Andes, Bogota, Colombia
Courtesy of José Hernan Aguilar Bogotá, Colombia
Courtesy of Alfred Wild- Gallery, Bogotá, Colombia