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In this short essay, critic Walter Engel attempts to demonstrate that, due to the maturity, breadth, and social content of its painting, Latin America will become a new center for art on a par with Paris. Engel—an Austrian critic who lived in Colombia—begins by asserting that Latin American art is not limited to production from Mexico. Along those lines, he mentions specifically the work of Colombian artists Pedro Nel Gómez, Luis Alberto Acuña, Carlos Correa, and Ignacio Gómez Jaramillo; Ecuadorian artists Eduardo Kingman and Diógenes Paredes; and Venezuelan artist Héctor Poleo. He bemoans the lack of monographs and books on the work of Nel Gómez, whose murals, Engel asserts, express a “social sentiment […] more genuine, fundamental, and current than many Mexican frescoes.” In defending the thesis that gives rise to the essay’s title—Modern painting will have two centers in the post-World War II period—Engel asserts that Latin American painting is mature and aware of its own value. It will not fall into “submissive serfdom” before European art. Instead, Engel argues, a mutually beneficial exchange between the two continents will ensue. Engels believes as well that Latin America will show Europe that Modern painting can engage social, popular, religious, and mythical content without compromising artistic value. In closing, he explains that the cultural exchange that he believes will take place between the two continents is due, in large part, to European artists and critics that emigrated during World War II and then returned to their countries of origin with direct knowledge of Latin American art. It can also be attributed to a growing body of literature on Modern art from Mexico. All of this will lead to greater Latin American influence on Europe in the post-World War II era.
In this essay, Walter Engel (1908–2005) voices for the first time his thesis that Latin America will become a new center of artistic creation in the post-World War II era. Indeed, this argument will form the basis for his interest in and defense of, first, Colombian art from 1945 to 1965 and, later, of indigenous art from Canada. Engel would further develop the idea that Latin America will make contributions to European avant-gardes in a chapter of his book Problemas sociales en las artes plásticas (see doc. no. 1094220) published two years after this essay.
The optimistic tone of this article—written a few months before the end of World War II—is related to the consequences of the war in Colombia and the rest of the world. As Colombian historian Javier Ocampo López has pointed out, the atmosphere in Latin America during those years was jubilant; the region was characterized by “peace, disarmament, national sovereignty, a welfare system, and the right to self-determination, coupled with commitment to strengthening nationalism.” In the Colombian case, that nationalism was bound to economic prosperity during the “bonanza cafeteria,” a period when the price of coffee was rising on the world market.
Insofar as he mentions only those Colombian artists influenced by Mexican painting, Engel disregards artists working in the academic tradition who were still enjoying a favorable position in Colombian art circles. Nonetheless, Engel, who was known for his conciliatory temperament and willingness to accept a wide range of artistic proposals, supported the allocation of first prize at the fifth edition of the Salón Nacional de Artistas, held the year this article was published, to Estudio en gris [Study in Gray]. That painting, a nude by Miguel Díaz Vargas (1886-1956), was clearly academic in nature. Engels stated that Díaz Vargas’s success was due to “the realist, intelligible, and pleasant nature of paintings accessible to one and all.”