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This essay presents the basis and verdict of the Premio Nacional de Cultura [National Culture Prize] for art, awarded in 1975 to the Andean altarpiece artist Joaquín López Antay. It is said that in Peru two types of art coexist: one is the so-called “cultured art” (“European style”); the other is known as “popular art” (“native and mestizo”). The difference between these two forms of art, which is underscored by the “overwhelming prestige” of the former, is a reflection of the class divisions in Peruvian society. Seeking to amend that situation, an attempt was made to acknowledge “the creative talents of our indigenous people” by valuing their forms of cultural expression. The prize recognizes the unique creativity of this artist from the Andes, his contributions to the visual language of the altarpiece, his pristine sense of humor, “elevated social expression,” and “humanistic view of life.” Given the political situation in Peru at the time, the final paragraph specifies the desire to “reward a form of representative expression that reinforces the achievements of our peasant population.”
An announcement on December 26, 1975 confirmed that the National Culture Prizes (for the 1973–74 biennium) had been awarded by the Peruvian government through the Instituto Nacional de Cultura to honor the greatest contributions to the development of Peruvian culture. The jury’s decision in the art category (which had traditionally included painting, sculpture, music, and architecture) ignited one of the most heated debates in the history of Peruvian art. The ensuing controversy underscored simmering tensions and suspicions regarding the cultural policies of the revolutionary government of the armed forces led by General Juan Velasco Alvarado (1968–75). This administration claimed to be committed to a progressive agenda, a claim supported mainly by the Agrarian Reform of 1969 which was accompanied by the government’s enthusiastic attempt to glorify the image of the peasant population and lifestyle at the expense of other forms of cultural expression that were considered more “Western.” On this occasion the prize was awarded to Joaquín López Antay (1897–1981), who was chosen over well-known visual artists such as Carlos Quízpez Asín (1900–83) and Teodoro Núñez Ureta (1912–88) and the German-born academic musician Rodolfo Holzmann (1910–92).
The jury in this case included the art historian Alfonso Castrillón (b. 1935) who provided theoretical arguments to support the decision and worked with the government to reform the Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes. Another member of the jury, the painter Leslie Lee (1932–2014), was also involved in those same government reforms. Cristina Gálvez (1919–82) and Carlos Bernasconi (b. 1924) were left-wing artists at the time, as was the architect Juan Gunther (1927–2012). Castrillón probably wrote the decision. Other participants were the German dancer and choreographer Vera Stastny (b. 1932) and the academic musician Enrique Pinilla (1927–89), although they are not named in the document.
[Regarding this conflict, see the following articles in the ICAA digital archive: by Alfonso Bermúdez “Premio a López Antay suscita controversias. Unos: consagración del arte popular. Otros: una cosa es arte y otra artesanía” (doc. no. 1135879); by Francisco Abril de Vivero, Luis Cossio Marino, and Alberto Dávila “Artistas plásticos cuestionan premio” (doc. no. 1135960); and (anonymous) “‘No todos nos quieren ni en Lima ni en Ayacucho’: así comentó sobre cuestionamiento a premio” (doc. no. 1135930)].