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In this opinion column the writers and critics Mirko Lauer and Abelardo Oquendo, writing under the pseudonym “Pedro Rojas,” challenge the arguments made by the ASPAP (Asociación Peruana de Artistas Plásticos) [Peruvian Association of Visual Artists] against the decision to award the 1975 National Culture Prize for art to the Andean altarpiece artist Joaquín López Antay. As explained in its communiqué, the association’s rejection is based on the (supposedly inferior) nature of “handcrafts,” the “colonial” origins of altarpieces, and the “demagogic” criteria of the jury. The column, in turn, rejects those arguments, and states that the ASPAP does not understand the complexity of a country like Peru where handcrafts—which are just as valid as “cultured art”—are a form of cultural expression contributed by a significant segment of the population. The column does not deny the value of any kind of artistic expression, but suggests that while “cultured art” tends to express an individual subjective perspective, handcrafts express “a collective cultural universe” that gives them “a social validity and a far broader common aesthetic appeal than conventional art.”


“Pedro Rojas” was the pseudonym used by the writers and critics Mirko Lauer (b. 1947) and Abelardo Oquendo (b. 1930) as their shared byline for the column “Considerando en frío” that appeared in the newspaper La Crónica in the mid-1970s. Both names (for the byline and the column) allude to the work of César Vallejo (1892–1938), the leftist poet. Lauer and Oquendo had similar political leanings, and supported some of the more radical positions taken by the General Juan Velasco Alvarado administration, including the decision to award the art prize to López Antay. Lauer had also worked in the Agrarian Reform press office, where he wrote the text for several important agrarian reform propaganda posters that were designed by Jesús Ruiz Durand (b. 1940).       


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).   


[Regarding this conflict, see the following articles in the ICAA digital archive: by Alfonso Castrillón, Leslie Lee, and Carlos Bernasconi “Fundamentación para el dictamen por mayoría simple a favor del artista popular Joaquín López Antay” (doc. no. 1135896); 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)].

Gabriela Germaná Roquez
Museo de Arte de Lima, Lima, Peru
Reproduced with permission of Mirko Lauer, Lima, Peru