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In this text, Juan Acha recognizes the importance of Sérvulo Gutiérrez’s life and art for Peruvian painting, acknowledging that he is an integral part of “our national reality.” Notwithstanding, Acha clarifies, any attempt to go beyond those limits/limitations “would mean letting him die a second death.” Acha praises Gutiérrez’s natural gifts, but regrets that he did not take them beyond a modest “collection of anecdotes” that is overrated by “sanctimonious nationalism.” Even though the painter has recently passed away, Acha asserts that it is fundamental to formulate a balanced assessment of his work. While he praises the 1954 exhibition of Gutiérrez’s art, which featured landscapes produced in a fashion largely unexplored by Peruvian painting, he regrets his later “deviation” [from that line of work]. Acha remarks that the Instituto de Arte Contemporáneo (IAC) intended to organize a retrospective of the painter while he was still alive in order to stimulate his production and to show the universal dimension of his potential. By squandering his talent, Gutiérrez exemplifies endless “frustration,” which will hopefully teach a lesson to future artists.


Peruvian art critic Juan Acha takes stock of the work of Peruvian painter Sérvulo Gutiérrez at the time of his death in Lima.


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 “Polémica sobre el homenaje a Sérvulo: Juan Acha responde a Juan Ríos” (doc. no. 1107568).

Ricardo Kusunoki
Museo de Arte de Lima, Lima, Peru
Private archive of Mahia Biblos, Mexico, D.F.