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Though no fan of abstraction, Sebastián Salazar Bondy applauds the initiative shown by the I Salón de Arte Abstracto (Lima, January 1958) in acknowledging the important role played by non-figurative movements in the contemporary world. In his opinion, the exhibition shows that painters are keen to embrace the latest styles at the cost of their own individuality; this is abundantly apparent when painting that has been reduced to nothing but form and color seeks to express “mankind’s infinite outer and inner world.” According to Salazar Bondy, abstraction is a challenge, “a test (…) of absolute concentration.” He notes its constant lack of originality, an undeniable aspect that has nothing to do with the nationality of its exponents. He also considers abstract painting to be both “a refuge for those who, due to a lack of ability, cannot manage even the most elementary form of representation,” and a “frivolous exercise disguised” as simple decoration. He goes on to name those whom—among the many artists whose works are on display—he describes as the true talents at the exhibition: Enrique Kleiser, Benjamín Moncloa, and Fernando de Szyszlo. He also, however, believes that the Salon should be more demanding in its selection process, warning of the risks involved in following the latest fashions while ignoring what he refers to as “eternal” values.
This the critic Sebastián Salazar Bondy’s review of the I Salón de Arte Abstracto, the exhibition held in Lima in January 1958.
In Peru, the 1950s spawned a departure from the narrow field of (solitary and intimist) experimentation characterized by the few examples of non-figurative painting produced in the very late 1940s by the abstract pioneering work of Juan Barreto (1913–91), Juan Manuel de la Colina (b. 1917), Antonino Espinosa Saldaña (1893–1969), and Enrique Kleiser (1905–77). Though the latter’s exhibition, in 1950, was the first to show works of this kind in Peru, it fell to a new generation of artists to wage the decisive battle on behalf of abstract art. The success enjoyed by the painter Fernando de Szyszlo (b. 1925)—who took the prize at the III Salón Moncloa in Lima in October 1955—thus injected the values of abstraction into the conversation after a couple of years of bitter debate concerning its relevance in Peru [on the subject of the III Salón Moncloa, see the following article in the ICAA digital archive, “En blanca y negra,” by Luis Miró Quesada Garland (doc. no. 859754)]. The I Salón de Arte Abstracto was unquestionably even more important. This event, organized by the painters Eduardo Moll (b. 1929) and Benjamín Moncloa (b. 1927) at the Museo de Arte de Lima in January 1958, was the first group exhibition of non-figurative art ever held in Peru. The high number of participants (a total of thirty) included the most talented local young artists [“I Salón de Arte Abstracto” (anonymous) (doc. no. 1143441)]. Despite the generally unenthusiastic reviews of the exhibition published by the writer Sebastián Salazar Bondy (1924–64) and the painter Carlos Aitor Castillo (1913–2000) [“Primer Salón de Arte Abstracto,” by Castillo (doc. no. 1137342)], the Salon was already predicting that local artists would be converting to non-figurative languages in the following decade. There were, of course, those who were initially opposed to that possibility, including Castillo [see also “Crónica de arte: I Salón de Arte Abstracto,” by Moll (doc. no. 1137359); and “Primer Salón de Arte Abstracto,” by Garland (doc. no. 1137215)].