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Art critic Walter Engel wrote five articles on exhibitions held in 1948, among them the solo show of artist Carlos Díaz Forero, sponsored by the Universidad Nacional of Bogotá and held at the Museo Nacional in that city in August; the exhibition of forty works by Enrique Grau held in the galleries of the Sociedad Colombiana de Arquitectos in Bogotá late in the year; the show of recent work by Ignacio Gómez Jaramillo at Galería de Arte on Jiménez de Quesada Avenue in Bogotá, an event sponsored by the Cultural Outreach Department of the Colombian Ministerio de Educación; and Exposición de Pintura Contemporánea, which critics of the day, as well as their later counterparts, referred to as the “Salón de los 26,” an event that opened on October 22 at the Museo Nacional of Bogotá. In Engel’s view, that last exhibition, which brought together twenty-six artists representative of the Colombian avant-garde, marked “a historic period in new art from Colombia.”


The publication Revista de las Indias (1936-1950) contained a supplement on the visual arts that discussed the situation of Colombian art of the day. Walter Engel—a Viennese critic who, seeking exile, settled in Bogotá in the late thirties—was one of the renowned critics who contributed to the magazine. In the tradition of Marta Traba (1923-1983), the key critic for the magazine Mito (1955-1962); Damián Bayón (1915-1995) who, along with Juan Gustavo Cobo Borda (b. 1948) and Juan Acha (1916-1995), was the crucial art critic for the magazine Eco (1960-1982); and Clemente Airó (1918-1975), the main critic for the magazine Espiral (1944-1975)—which Airó himself directed—Walter Engel was one of the constant figures behind the art section of the Revista de las Indias.  


The Revista de las Indias was an initiative of the Ministerio de Educación Nacional during the first government of the Liberal Republic under Alfonso López Pumarejo (1934-1938). This was a time of deep division in Colombian political history when, for decades, the government was in the hands of conservatives. The magazine attempted to defend what, at that time, was called “national cultural,” an ambiguous term brandished by many in their attempts to define a common culture in which the local and the indigenous stood in opposition to the “high culture” associated with the European artistic, philosophical, and poetic traditions. This was the context in which Walter Engel published these five articles on what were perhaps the five most important exhibitions held in Bogotá in 1948. Engel examines the exhibitions and the artists in them in terms of their overall careers, which provides a broad overview of the development of each artist. He also speaks of one or several works in each exhibition, either praising the quality of the work or pointing out a failing. This, in turn, serves to provide a global vision of each artist’s production. These five articles, then, not only give a sense of the pictorial personalities of the artists they discuss, but also—together—serve to re-create the cultural agenda of Bogotá at the end of a crucial year.

Tatiana Arango Botero
Universidad de los Andes, Bogota, Colombia
Courtesy of the Engel/ Marks Families, Ontario, Canada