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The visual artist Gastón Garreaud weighs in on the debate over the decision to award the 1975 National Culture Prize for art to the Andean altarpiece artist Joaquín López Antay. Garreaud points to parallels he sees between this decision and Pablo Picasso’s reappraisal of the naïve artist Henry Rousseau’s work in a move that “revolutionized the fundamentals of modern art and influenced how things should be looked at.” According to the article, a revolutionary approach like that creates a dramatic break with established ideas concerning a “supposedly strict and cultured traditional worldview.” Garreaud criticizes the aesthetic that influences the production of contemporary art and its consumer-oriented distribution channels which actually evolve into a “form of cultural control.” He suggests that the Revolution (which was under way in Peru at the time) should set the country’s cultural standards “based on true political awareness.” A step in that direction would be to recognize López Antay’s work, “with no classism or prejudice,” as part of the country’s contemporary art output, and grant him an honorary membership in the ASPAP (Asociación Peruana de Artistas Plásticos) [Peruvian Association of Visual Artists].
His strongly-worded articles made the painter Gastón Garreaud (1934–2005) one of the most vocal critics of the ASPAP (Asociación Peruana de Artistas Plásticos) [Peruvian Association of Visual Artists], condemning the association for having challenged the decision to award the 1975 National Art Prize to López Antay. As a result he was one of the founding members of SUTAP (Sindicato Único de Trabajadores de las Artes Plásticas) [Sole Visual Arts Workers Union], the dissident group that broke with the ASPAP in an attempt to promote a form of “politically aware art” that was more in tune with social conditions in Peru at the time.
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)].