The editorial categories are research topics that have guided researchers during the recovery phase and continue to be the impetus behind the Documents Project’s digital archive and the Critical Documents book series. Developed by the project’s Editorial Board, each of the teams analyzed this framework and adapted it to their local contexts in developing their research objectives and work plans during the Recovery Phase. Learn more on the Editorial Framework page.
This text by Juan Acha, signed with the anagram of his name J. Nahuaca, was published in the catalogue to the Exposición Homenaje, a show organized by the Instituto de Arte Contemporáneo (IAC) in Lima in honor of painter Sérvulo Gutiérrez. Acha comments on how difficult it is to come up with a critical assessment of Gutiérrez’s work, which he sees as bound to the artist’s personality and to the overall situation of Peru. Because it did not enjoy “even the most basic support,” Gutiérrez’s work can be forgiven for an utter lack of universal value. The role that Gutiérrez played in the local art scene evidences, in Acha’s view, the ongoing nonexistence of “Peruvian painting,” which is as rich in possibilities as it is riddled with frustrations. Acha identifies three stages in Gutiérrez’s work. A “monumental” stage (1942–45) that was, nonetheless, ultimately bookish and literary (that stage culminated in the canvas Los Andes (The Andes) (1943)); an “expressionist” stage (1946-54) that made use of exuberant and visceral color; a “mystical” phase (1955–61), which evidenced the painter’s disconcertion since he “is either searching and not finding or simply does not know what to search for.” In closing, Acha concedes the importance of Gutiérrez’s work, if only for the local context—“a numbing milieu […] where even painting attempts to subsist with no color.”
Though he had a degree in chemical engineering, Juan Acha (1916-95) studied art theory and history in his later years, eventually becoming the most important art critic active in Peru from the late fifties until 1971, when he moved to Mexico City after a brief stay in the United States. Thanks to the insightful work he did while in Mexico, he soon became a crucial point of reference in the social theory of art and new concepts related to what was called non-object art.
In October and November 1961, the Instituto de Arte Contemporáneo (IAC) in Lima held an exhibition in honor of painter Sérvulo Gutiérrez as part of its effort to enliven and advocate modern art in Peru. It was the second retrospective exhibition held at the institution (the first one was dedicated to independent Indianist artist Mario Urteaga). Gutiérrez, who had recently died, and his work, especially his modernist figurative work, had played an important role in the Peruvian art scene in the mid-twentieth century—hence, the decision to hold the retrospective. Regardless, the artist’s firm rejection of abstraction was lacking in a coherent agenda that might have given him a key role in the local polemic on abstraction in the fifties. The show at the IAC was a chance to take stock of Guriérrez’s career in a context where, by this time, abstraction was the lingua franca of the country’s incipient avant-garde. It was from that perspective that Acha wrote the prologue to the catalogue—an overview of Gutiérrez’s contribution that some saw as opposing the artist. Due to his own “commitment to the avant-garde,” Acha refused to see Guriérrez’s work as “artistic creation”—an assessment only earned on the basis of the parameters of the international avant-garde. The main focus of Acha’s criticism was that, even though Guriérrez had reached the limits of figuration, he lacked “the minimal dosage of mental [criteria]” required to pass over into abstraction. Writer Juan Ríos condemned the negative tone of a text written as a prologue to an homage exhibition.
For other articles by Juan Acha on this topic, see “Polémica sobre el homenaje a Sérvulo” (ICAA digital archive doc. no. 1107551), “Polémica sobre el homenaje a Sérvulo: Juan Acha responde a Juan Ríos” (doc. no. 1107568), and “[Artes Plásticas]: Sérvulo Gutiérrez” (doc. no. 110586).