Documents of 20th-century Latin American and Latino Art

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Synopsis

“Fabricación del silencio” is the title of a text in letter form from Basque artist Jorge Oteiza to Colombian sculptor Édgar Negret. In the forties, Oteiza lived in Popayán (Cauca Valley), the region of Colombia where Negret was born; he was one of Negret’s first teachers. In this text, which was written in 1966 years after that initial encounter, Oteiza recognizes the importance of Negret’s work, which he describes as among the most valuable contemporary formulations in the sphere of sculpture. Unlike so much art today, Oteiza says, Negret’s work does not rely on complicated and overly ornate discourses. In Oteiza’s view, Negret “produces silence”; his works generate a “state of discretion” that precludes any “nonsensical narrative.” This means that the work exists on its own terms while inciting reflection and creative thought in the viewer.

Annotations

In 1942, sculptor Jorge Oteiza (1908-2003) was hired by the Colombian government to organize public instruction in ceramics in the city of Popayán. Gradually, Oteiza became a point of reference in art from the Valle del Cauca region. Intellectuals, artists, and others attended his classes and listened to his talks on history, art theory, and European culture. Colombian sculptor Édgar Negret (1920?2012) was one of the individuals from Popayán most influenced by Oteiza. Under his tutelage, Negret explored different materials and techniques that gave him his start as a sculptor.

 

The text “Fabricación del silencio” is a letter from Oteiza to Negret written more than two decades after his return to Spain in 1948. It was initially published in 1966 and again in the catalogue to a major retrospective of Negret’s work held at the Museo Español de Arte Contemporáneo (Madrid, 1983). This document sheds light on what Oteiza thought of Negret’s work. It also attests to the two men’s professional and personal relationship. Thanks to its letter format, the text is more than a critic discussing the work of an artist. It is, rather, one friend telling another what he thinks of his work and artistic process. Due to its intimate tone and fraternal language, this is a unique and enlightening historical document.

 

In the text, Oteiza tells Negret that he is experiencing something of a crisis in his professional life. He speaks of a contemporary context in which narrative and the indiscriminate use of linguistic discourses have diminished the power of the art object, that is, of art’s material component. Negret’s work, though, “produces silence”; it does not depend on discourse or on narrative but, rather, gives rise to silence and silence alone, and that is worthy of admiration. With these words, an old master gives advice to his young student while also recognizing the merit of his work and encouraging him to continue along a certain path. This document attests to the mutual admiration and respect of the two men.

Researcher
Nicolás Bonilla Maldonado
Team
Universidad de los Andes, Bogota, Colombia
Credit
Courtesy of Fundación Museo Jorge Oteiza, Navarra, España