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This document is the second letter sent by Juan Acha to Edgardo Pérez Luna, art critic for Lima-based El Comercio newspaper, where he defends the pertinence of his prologue to the catalogue to Exposición Homenaje, an exhibition in honor of painter Sérvulo Gutiérrez. In this letter, Acha asserts, “I have praised all of Sérvulo’s remarkable potential and the importance of his work for Peruvian painting.” At the same time, he explains that he was exercising “objective criticism” when he pointed out that Gutiérrez was lacking in the “minimal dosage of mental [criteria]” required to produce true “artistic creation”; in other words, he never reached his potential. “Where Mr. Ríos finds creation, we don’t.” Acha deems it opportune to expose the paradox of the title “Homage against artistic creation,” since it is impossible to oppose nothing, that is, “to object to something that does not exist.” Acha asserts that it is Ríos’s duty to demonstrate [Gutiérrez’s] transcendent pictorial existence, and that he has failed to do so. Acha adds that he was not aware that Ríos would not have accepted the assignment of topics for their respective texts in the catalogue. Apparently, Ríos would have been assigned the topic of the painter’s “human condition,” and Acha his “artistic production.”


With this text, Acha responds to the second letter published in El Comercio newspaper (Lima, October 19, 1961), in which writer Juan Ríos takes issues with the opinions he expressed in the prologue to the catalogue to Exposición Homenaje, an exhibition in honor of painter Sérvulo Gutiérrez organized by the Instituto de Arte Contemporáneo (IAC) in the Peruvian capital.


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” (doc. no. 1107551), 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