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In this essay the artist and researcher Juan Manuel Ugarte Eléspuru discusses the differences between “handcrafts” and “art.” In his opinion, the former term refers to traditional community works that were produced in response to local needs, although more recently much of this kind of work has changed in order to appeal to urban consumers. “Art” on the other hand, though also based on communal forms, expresses them according to the individual whim of its creator. There are, however, handcrafts that can be considered individual and authentic; but in these cases the craftsman “is indifferent to and ignorant of his own significance, and is working purely on instinct.” Ugarte Eléspuru also believes that handcrafts can be more valuable than so-called works of art when the former are original and the latter are produced solely for commercial purposes. All that notwithstanding, authentic works of art “aspire to higher, more transcendent realms” than handcrafts do, because they “are inspired by deeper goals and are more unique.” 


Juan Manuel Ugarte Eléspuru (1911–2004), the distinguished artist, writer, and art historian, who was the director of the Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes en Lima from 1956 to 1973, was one of the most vocal critics of the decision to award the national art prize to Joaquín López Antay. In this essay, written a year after the debate began, he reviews his approach to the controversial issue. 


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).   


[For more on the subject of this event, 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