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Originally published in La Patria newspaper based in Manizales, Colombia, this text is a journalistic version of the two television programs aired in 1956 that critic Marta Traba dedicated to the work of sculptor Rodrigo Arenas Betancourt. Traba discusses the controversial monument Bolivar Desnudo (1963), located in the city of Pereira, and the works that preceded it. She praises the monument, describing it as an “ardent and noble creation with all the power of conviction that its author had envisioned for it.” She mentions specifically the horse in the work, which is “hurled over a tide of flags, its nude jockey carrying a flaming torch against the wind.” Traba, an Argentine critic who lived in Colombia, describes Arenas Betancourt’s earlier work based on verticality as “very simple.” From there, his production evolved into the expression of motion and more complex sculptural problems. Traba describes Arenas Betancourt’s “Homenaje a Antioquia” project, which was never carried out, as “spectacular and decorative,” and as such the very opposite of Bolívar Desnudo. In closing, Traba states that she is not troubled by the fact that all public monuments have a “demagogical tone”; after all, monuments are utilitarian and must deliver a historical and patriotic lesson.


From an early age, Colombian sculptor Rodrigo Arenas Betancourt (1939-1995) was interested in drawing and in the figure of Simón Bolívar, known as “the Liberator.” Born into poverty in Colombia, in 1944 Arenas Betancourt settled in Mexico City, where he had the opportunity to pursue his interest in sculpture, a field in which he earned widespread recognition. 


An Argentine critic who lived in Bogotá starting in the early fifties, Marta Traba (1923–1983) presented four series of programs on Colombian television from 1954 to 1958: “ABC del arte moderno,” “El museo imaginario,” “Una visita a los museos,” and “Curso de historia del arte.” Traba spent two programs in the first series on the work of Arenas Betancourt. In them, she demonstrates thorough knowledge of Arenas Betancourt’s sculptural work produced in Mexico and deploys her known powers as an educator to explain the artist’s evolution as well as the distinctive characteristics of each phase of his career. Traba argues that in Arenas Betancourt’s homage to Bolívar he was able to dodge “the dangers of a false literary sculpture.” Traba’s position on Arenas Betancourt’s work is startling since she was a dogged critic of nationalist artists and art, and an eager advocate of all expressions of Modernism.

Santiago Londoño Vélez
Universidad de los Andes, Bogota, Colombia
Courtesy of Gustavo Zalamea Traba, Bogotá, Colombia
Reproduced with permission of El Colombiano, Medellín, Colombia