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In this article signed “J. Nahuaca”—the anagram he used as an alias—Peruvian critic Juan Acha
reflects on whether or not there is a painting tradition in Peru. He discusses the current state of painting on the occasion of the Premio Nacional de Pintura Ignacio Merino held in 1958 and the exhibition of the Peruvian representation at the IV São Paulo Biennial. Acha asserts that the work of art is a union of aesthetic elements that ultimately depends on the individuality of the artist. Notwithstanding, the work of art does contain a series of “anesthetic” components, or characteristic traits, that depend on a specific culture and geography and are thus tied to “the national.” When those components encounter their true aesthetic definition, a “style” emerges. He also argues that, in around 1930, a Peruvian pictorial movement developed that now, thanks to its size, constitutes a true art scene. He mentions representatives of that movement, and claims that they have “a national character” due to shared problems, as well as somewhat uniform solutions, thanks to a degree of continuity with pre-Columbian art, from which that movement draws inspiration. Notwithstanding, Acha believes that “the Peruvian” is still an “anesthetic” element within that movement, the result of a certain “psychological projection.” In closing, he underscores that, once the intellectual fact outweighs that emotional background, “the sui generis architecture of the painting of tomorrow” will begin taking shape.
Peruvian critic Juan Acha (1916–95), who lived in Mexico, was one of the main advocates of avant-garde art in Peru in the mid-sixties. In his writings—both essays and journalistic articles—he defended Pop Art and Op Art on a theoretical level and supported young artists producing work of that sort in the framework of the developmental ideology of the time.
Acha was a central figure in debates on Peruvian and Latin American art in the second half of the 20th century. He studied chemical engineering in Munich and worked in that field when he returned to Lima in 1942. Sixteen years later, in 1958, he published his first writings on art in the influential Lima-based newspaper El Comercio, thus starting a long career in the field of criticism and art theory. In the essays and articles he wrote in those years, he provided a complex overview of the local art scene, identifying the various nationalist strains operative in the country’s art. The intense debate over abstraction was recent history at that time, and one of its central issues was the relationship between art and national identity. In the late fifties, pre-Columbian art began to be envisioned as a way out of the opposition between strictly Peruvian art and the cosmopolitanism of abstraction; Acha focused on that second option—abstraction—in his texts. Though his stance would evolve over the course of his career, his commitment to “avant-garde art” was constant, as was his interrogation of the role of “identity in art,” whether strictly Peruvian or Latin American in general.
[As complementary reading, see the following articles by the author in the ICAA digital archive: “Las bienales en América Latina de hoy” (doc. no. 1079465), “¿Está aún vigente la pintura figurativa?” (doc. no. 1097217), “Consideraciones estéticas: Szyszlo en el I. A. C.” (doc. no. 1292805), “Arte Pop: procedimientos y finalidades” (doc. no. 1107517), “En busca de un autor para Túpac Amaru: una candente polémica” (doc. no. 1107496), “La vanguardia pictórica en el Perú” (doc. no. 1142850), “El Homenaje al cuadrado de Josef Albers” (doc. no. 1293025), “El video” (doc. no. 1097190), and “Teoría y práctica de las artes no objetualistas en América Latina” (doc. no. 1088533). See as well the following texts on the polemic tribute to artist Sérvulo Gutiérrez: “Artes Plásticas: Sérvulo Gutiérrez” (doc. no. 1107586), “La pintura de Sérvulo” (doc. no. 1107534), “Polémica sobre el homenaje a Sérvulo: Juan Acha responde a Juan Ríos” (doc. no. 1107568), and “Polémica sobre el homenaje a Sérvulo: Juan Acha responde a Juan Ríos; hija de Sérvulo protesta porque el IAC se negó a exhibir el primer cuadro de su padre” (doc. no. 1107551)].