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On the occasion of the decision to grant the 1975 Premio Nacional de Cultura [award] to Andean altarpiece maker Joaquín López Antay (1897–1981), journalist José B. Adolph reviews the categories of “high art” and “folk art.” While Adolph defends the decision by the jury, he does so for reasons he considers contrary to the ones put forth by most of the supporters of the prizewinner, which—in his view—are largely populist. Adolph believes that “all forms of cultural expression (art and crafts) must be reassessed in Peru.” Beyond “unnecessary populisms,” he formulates a reassessment of crafts as the grounds for a national art that aspires to universality: “[…] on the basis of this revalorization, the future [Carlos] Quíspezs and [Fernando de] Szyszloses will emerge from the crafts of López Antays,” he writes. The article contains an earlier text by Adolph on the ties between folklore and so-called high art in which he criticizes mass culture of the sort formulated by the dominant sectors under capitalism and by statism. Folklore, he argues, “is (or could be) the basis of great national art; it would be mistaken to believe that, by definition, it already is.”  


Peruvian-Teuton writer José B. Adolph (1933–2008) was a member of the jury that granted the Premios Nacionales de Cultura [award] in the period before this polemic erupted. 


The decision to grant the 1975 Premio Nacional de Cultura [award] in the art category to Andean altarpiece maker Joaquín López Antay (1897–1981) gave rise to one of the most heated polemics in the history of Peruvian art, one that brought the latent tensions and mistrust surrounding the cultural policies supported by the military government under General Juan Velasco Alvarado (1968–75) to the surface. In his search for an “authentic” national culture, he attempted to revalorize the image of the peasant and of peasant lifestyles as opposed to “Western” cultural forms. Indeed, granting the prize to López Antay meant ignoring widely recognized contenders such as visual artists Carlos Quízpez Asín (1900–83) and Teodoro Núñez Ureta (1912–88), and German-born academic musician Rodolfo Holzmann (1910–92).


[Regarding these events, 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 Cossío Marino, and Alberto Dávila “Artistas plásticos cuestionan premio” (doc. no. 1135960); and (unsigned) “‘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
José B. Adolph, 1976. Reproduced with permission, Lima, Peru