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In this article the visual artist Carlos Bernasconi discusses the meaning of the terms “art,” “traditional art,” and “handcrafts” based on the definitions agreed upon at the 1st World Congress of Craftsmen held in New York in 1964. Noting the descriptions used at that event for “artisan,” “designer,” and “craftsman,” Bernasconi claims that the latter term means “a visual creator on a par with painters and sculptors;” and questions the traditional custom of describing certain materials as artistic (implying that others are not). He refers to the now-discredited division between major and minor arts as used at the Bauhaus. Bernasconi criticizes the board of directors of the ASPAP (Asociación Peruana de Artistas Plásticos) [Peruvian Association of Visual Artists] for refusing to recognize as creative artists those who produce traditional art, and suggests that the various forms of creative work—“cultured art,” “traditional art,” and “handcrafts”—“can all happily coexist at the same level.” Bernasconi ends his article by referring to the British art historian Herbert Read and stating that “mankind moves from handcrafts to art (…) when he exercises his right to base his creativity on his intelligence while controlling his emotions.” 


This article makes a significant contribution to the national debate ignited by the decision to award the 1975 National Art Prize to an artisan from the Andean region of Peru. The artist Carlos Bernasconi (b. 1924), who wrote this article, was a member of the jury that awarded the prize to López Antay. As explained here, the board of directors of the Asociación Peruana de Artistas Plásticos (ASPAP), in particular, was violently opposed to the jury’s decision.  


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 Carlos Bernasconi, Lima, Peru