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Colombian artist Gonzalo Ariza addresses three issues in this article. First, the fifth edition of the Salón Nacional de Artistas, which he describes as a “success” in terms of attendance, the participating artists, and the quality of the works on display. He celebrates the decision of Miguel Díaz Vargas, director of Museos y Exposiciones, to establish new bylaws according to which the artists themselves were the organizers of the event. This change marks “the ultimate evolution of a professional consciousness that it was urgent to foster in artists.” Ariza believes, nonetheless, that the prizes are too small and that the Colombian State should provide artists with greater support. Second, Ariza asserts that Colombia should attempt to restore its past position at the forefront of art in Spanish America; Colombian artists should cease to be mere viewers of art produced in Mexico and other countries in the region to become instead creators of a national strain of art. Third, Ariza states that the Andean nation’s art scene has been corrupted by “the interference of individuals not engaged in making art.” Those persons have “set out to systematically destroy […] the principles we hold dearest as a nation.” Ariza questions whether foreign art critics residing in Bogotá (specifically Walter Engel and Juan Friede) have the authority to discuss Colombian culture. He bemoans “the political, financial, and social interests that motivate them” as they take advantage of “the difficult situation of Colombian artists.”
This document, which was written during the V Salón Nacional de Artistas—the largest public art event in Colombia—attests to the existence of an organized art field in the country, one capable of holding a competition despite the absence of unambiguous State support for awards and subsidies. Ariza criticizes the State for “flattering artists with economic support for making propagandistic frescos” at the cost of their individual freedom of expression. This assessment highlights the poor situation of avant-garde painters at a time when the government did not provide adequate backing for the visual arts.
Artist Gonzalo Ariza (1912–1995) was known for his contributions to newspapers like El Tiempo and El Espectador. He was a staunch defendant of the unionization of Colombian artists in order to favor better working conditions, the creation of museums and of what he considered “national” art (see doc. no. 1130276), that is, art bound to the pre-Colombian tradition. Paradoxically, his notion of “national” art encompassed academic artists such as Gregorio Vásquez de Arce y Ceballos (1638–1711), Epifanio Garay (1849–1903), and Roberto Pizano (1896–1929), one of Ariza’s teachers at the Escuela de Bellas Artes in Bogotá. It is not surprising, then, that Ariza criticized Colombian artists for being overly fixated on artists from Mexico. This criticism was accentuated, no doubt, by the fact that Ariza, unlike most Colombian artists who studied abroad, had chosen to study in Japan.
Ariza’s criticism of Walter Engel (1908–2005) and of Juan Friede (1901–1990) can also be understood as a rejection of “elements” from abroad and as part of his deep concern with the creation of a “national” art whose points of reference in terms of theme and style would be Colombia. This same dismissal of art criticism by foreigners living in Colombia is evident in the biting article “Tango y pintura” published fifteen years later [doc. no. 1129558], in which Ariza attacks the ideas expressed by Argentine critic Marta Traba (1923–1983) on Latin American art. Due to his open hostility towards art critics—with the exception of historian Germán Arciniegas (1900–1999) —Ariza did not show his work in Colombia from 1964 to 1973.