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In the introduction to his book “Nueve artistas colombianos” [Nine Colombian Artists], poet and art critic Jorge Zalamea explains the objectives of the publication, and discusses the Colombian art scene of the early forties. Zalamea starts out recalling the spirit that reigned in the “golden ages of art,” which he considers the Hellenistic period and the Renaissance. In Zalamea’s view, those eras were able to develop due to the complementary relationship between life and art, that is, the importance of beauty in daily life. In the opening pages of this text, Zalamea discusses that phenomenon in Renaissance Florence. He continues with a comparison to the present era (the text was written in 1941) with that historical moment in terms of the bond between life and beauty. He concludes that beauty has been regrettably relegated and displaced by an intellectuality steeped in prejudgment, theory, and passing trends. The separation between life and art is illustrated by current exhibitions, concerts, and museums. In the prevailing order, art is conditioned by money and power relations; it is no longer a question of vitality, but of intellectual spectacle. Zalamea asserts that criticism is partly responsible for this state of affairs insofar as it has acted to further extra aesthetic interests and to uphold poor taste. Nonetheless, there are some current artists who merit praise for their efforts to enliven Colombian art. Zalamea explains that the aim of the book is to provide an overview of those efforts.
Jorge Zalamea (1905–1969) was an important Colombian writer, poet, and art critic. He is known for literary works, such as El gran Burundú Burundá ha muerto [The Great Burundú Burundá Has Died] (1952) and El sueño de las escalinatas [Dream of the Staircases] (1964), and essays, such as “Poesía ignorada y olvidada” [Poetry Ignored and Forgotten] (1965) and “Nueve artistas colombianos” [Nine Colombian Artists] (1941). In this book, he discusses the most emblematic Colombian artists of the early forties, analyzing their production on the basis of central aesthetic problems of the time, such as the languages of modernism, and the role of representation.
In the early forties, Colombian art was looking inward. A number of creators from the generation active at that time defended Americanism and Indianism, and Zalamea selected nine such artists for this book: Luis Alberto Acuña Tapias (1904–1984), Gonzalo Ariza (1912–1995), Ramón Barba Guichard (1894–1964), Carlos Reyes Gutiérrez (b. 1907), Sergio Trujillo Magnenat (1911–1999), Pedro Nel Gómez (1899–1984), Ignacio Gómez Jaramillo (1910–1970), José Domingo Rodríguez (1895–1968), and Josefina Albarracín de Barba (1910–2007). Zalamea’s selection illustrates his interest in exploring recent art.
It was not for a few years until Colombia came into contact with modern art. In 1940, the Salón Nacional de Artistas [National Artists’ Salon] began as an attempt to modernize art in the country. Zalamea’s far-reaching criticism of the Colombian cultural scene attests to an awareness of change, as well as the displeasure of some intellectuals at the academicism that continued to dominate the art establishment. Significantly, Zalamea addresses the most common fallacies of criticism related to using ethical and political criteria to assess art. Without criticism of the sort formulated by Zalamea, the modernization of Colombian art and art criticism that took place in the forties and fifties would not have been possible.