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This document is the first letter that Juan Acha sent to Edgardo Pérez Luna, art critic for Lima-based newspaper El Comercio. In it, Acha defends the text he wrote for the catalogue to the Sérvulo Gutiérrez retrospective, explaining that—regardless of his previous remarks—he contributed to the publication “because I consider Sérvulo’s work a part of the history of Peruvian painting.” He clarifies that his phrase “that minimal dosage of mental [criteria]” should not be mistaken for commonsense; what he was referring to was the artist’s ability to “revolutionize and reach universal dimensions [in his art].” Acha argues that his statement does not differ much from Ríos’s remark in the same catalogue about the limitations that might have prevented Gutiérrez from developing “the extraordinary potential that his talent afforded.” Acha speaks of his professional duty, explaining that “artistic judgment must not be governed by the biases that might arise from an outdated cult of the personality.” 


In this text, Juan Acha responds to a letter published in El Comercio newspaper (Lima, October 15, 1961), in which writer Juan Ríos opposes the opinions that Acha expressed in the prologue to the catalogue to Exposición Homenaje, an exhibition in honor of Sérvulo Gutiérrez organized by the Instituto de Arte Contemporáneo (IAC) in the Peruvian capital. Along with Acha’s letter, the newspaper published a letter from the painter’s daughter, Lucila Gutiérrez de Dueñas, protesting that the first painting her father ever made, which dated from 1937, was not included in the show.


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 “La pintura de Sérvulo” (ICAA digital archive doc. no. 1107534), “Polémica sobre el homenaje a Sérvulo: Juan Acha responde a Juan Ríos” (doc. no. 1107568), and  “[Artes Plásticas]: Sérvulo Gutiérrez” (doc. no. 110586).

Ricardo Kusunoki
Museo de Arte de Lima, Lima, Peru
Courtesy of the personal archive of Mtra. Mahia Biblos, Mexico City, Mexico