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    Pintores peruanos hay, lo que aún no hay es pintura peruana : dice Juan Ríos y agrega que la pintura abstracta es pobre e inhumana
    La Prensa : diario independiente de la mañana (Lima, Perú). -- Jun. 3, 1951
    Newspaper article – Essays
    La Prensa: diario independiente de la mañana (Lima, Perú). "Pintores peruanos hay, lo que aún no hay es pintura peruana: dice Juan Ríos y agrega que la pintura abstracta es pobre e inhumana." June 3, 1951.

Questioned about Fernando de Szyszlo’s statement that there are no painters in Peru or indeed—with the exception of Rufino Tamayo—in the Americas, Juan Ríos defends Mexican muralism, thereby confirming that there are, in fact, Peruvian painters, even though there is not yet a “Peruvian School” due to an ongoing lack of cultural and political maturity. The author thus addresses the problem of “the local” from the perspective of an authentic pictorial nationalism possible only in “the spirit with which [the work of art] is produced.” Looking to Ortega y Gasset (1925), Ríos dismisses abstract painting as “dehumanized […], decadent, and moribund,” while also arguing that there is “an interesting pictorial movement” in Peru. He asserts that abstraction has no place in the Peruvian context: “non-figuration” is an outgrowth of European culture that cannot be applied to all contexts since “tendencies in literature and in art are not merely articles to be imported.” In Ríos’s view, “snobbery” is the greatest threat facing Peruvian art, and it mostly besets the young. Though Ríos says that he has not read de Szyszlo’s statements or seen his exhibition, he rejects the artist’s assertion that abstraction is the sole means of reaching aesthetic values. Ríos categorically states that a Peruvian painter in Paris must assimilate European culture, but not its “vices,” in order to express his roots.


This interview with writer and critic Juan Ríos (1914–91) published in La Prensa newspaper is a response to Fernando de Szyszlo’s polemic statements regarding his exhibition of abstract painting at the Sociedad de Arquitectos del Perú in Lima published the day before. In response to de Szyszlo’s stance, which is seen as excessive and destructive, Ríos asserts that a truly interesting pictorial movement is taking shape in the country; he cites specifically works by Jorge Vinatea Reinoso (1900–31), Sérvulo Gutiérrez (1914–61), and Juan Manuel Ugarte Eléspuru (1911–2004), and defends the production of Ricardo Grau (1907–70).


In early 1951, Peruvian painter Fernando de Szyszlo (b. 1925) returned to Lima after having spent almost two years in Paris. His time in the French capital proved decisive to a turn towards Abstract Expressionism in his work, largely due to the influence of German artist Hans Hartung (1904–89). In May 1951, de Szyszlo exhibited his most recent works at the Sociedad de Arquitectos in Lima, in a show held under the auspices of the Agrupación Espacio, a group that spearheaded innovation in art and architecture in the country. 


De Szyszlo’s show was, generally speaking, favorably reviewed, though influential Peruvian critic Carlos Raygada (1898–1953) did have some reservations [see in the ICAA digital archive “De arte: exposición Szyszlo” (doc. no. 1150738)]. The overall belligerent tone of de Szyszlo’s rebuttal was overshadowed by his now-famous statement in La Prensa newspaper: “there are no painters in Peru” (doc. no. 1137793). His open contempt for contemporary art from his country gave rise to an irate reaction from Peruvian artists and intellectuals and earned him a leading role in the first debate in Peru on non-figurative art. [For additional information, see the following articles: (unsigned) “Cristina Gálvez opina que sí hay pintores en el Perú: citó a cuatro: ‘Hay que ser muy intelectual para ser abstracto’ dijo y añadió luego ‘Szyszlo no es intelectual’” (doc. no. 1150897); Sérvulo Gutiérrez’s “Qué arte abstracto ni que nada, el arte es esencialmente uno... lo que debe hacer el pintor es ‘pintar’” (doc. no. 1150851); (unsigned) “Gran problema del arte peruano es la falta de críticos: ‘Xanno’: Alejandro Romualdo Valle agregó que los que escriben sobre arte son improvisados o huachafos” (doc. no. 1150928); Federico Costa y Laurent’s “La ‘polémica de los pintores’” (doc. no. 1150866); (unsigned) “‘Julia Codesido y Sabogal son buenos pintores’: Aquilles Ralli cree, además, que muchos sólo buscan la fama por medio de la publicidad” (doc. no. 1150882); Juan Ríos’s “El debate sobre pintura: carta del Sr. Juan Ríos R.” (doc. no. 1150912) and “Balance de una polémica: cuatro preguntas fundamentales” (doc. no. 1137882); and Ángel Guido’s “A los pintores peruanos” (doc. no. 1150943)].


Though intentionally provocative, the statement “there are no painters in Peru” made reference to the lack of local points of reference for any artist interested in participating in the most recent international trends. The most ornery issues in the debate were the terms that should be used to define local modern art, suggesting early differences among Peruvian progressive intellectuals. By defending “earthly abstraction” as the sole option for Peruvian art, critic Samuel Pérez Barreto (1921–2003) found himself up against fellow former members of the Agrupación Espacio, a group that vehemently rejected any partisan and totalizing view that identified “the national” with “the Andean.”

Ricardo Kusunoki
Museo de Arte de Lima, Lima, Peru