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Synopsis

This is a letter from a reader (“Alfredo Aguilar Ch.” is possibly a pseudonym) to Lima’s La Prensa newspaper, which denounces an alleged case of plagiarism by the Italian-Peruvian artist Hugo [Ugo] Camandona in a series of paintings exhibited in Lima at the IAC (Instituto de Arte Contemporáneo]. As proof, the author sent in three cuttings from a German decorative magazine, Schöner Wohnen [Living Beautifully], arguing that some of the details reproduced in the photographs were reworked into central elements for the artist’s canvases. The author expresses abhorrence of this act of artistic dishonesty that he believes threatens to become an “everyday situation” given another similar denunciation. He refers to the first painting competition organized by the Ancón Festival. The author does not yet believe such cases constitute a conspiracy, although the press declared it so during the resulting controversy, but rather a scandalous deception of the public, and he denounces the artist’s “conscious or unconscious lack of morality.” Camandona’s defense was of little use, although it summarized the guidelines of the Pop Art trend, which permitted copying and appropriation. The letter was published along with a graphical comparison of the paintings and aforementioned images.

Annotations

This letter and the attention it garnered demonstrate the persecutory attitude working against Pop Art aesthetics and ethics in Peru at the end of the 1960s. This attitude arose from the controversy surrounding the first prize awarded in the painting competition at the Festivales de Ancón in 1969; in fact, this was one of the events that led to the breakup of the cosmopolitan avant-garde within the Peruvian arts scene of that era. The resulting polemic originated from a publication in Caretas magazine of an advertisement for a brand of motorcycles that served as a model for the winning artwork.

 

Ancón was at that time a stylish resort located on the outskirts of Lima. During the summers, it offered music, theater, as wells as conferences and a painting competition that generated much attention (in that year). After the results were announced, Caretas magazine published a letter that argued the winning work—Motociclista No. 3 by Luis Zevallos Hetzel—had been plagiarized because it was a “faithful copy” of an advertisement published in the United States for a brand of motorcycles. In the same competition, a (playfully erotic Pop) painting by Ugo Camandona, an Italian painter and ceramics artist, won an honorable mention; he was based in the country and had also been accused of plagiarism. Both complaints stirred debate on the value of “originality” in modern art, as well as the processes and actions of Pop Art within a consumer society. The anachronistic nature of this controversy revealed the limited penetration of avant-garde ideologies within this cultural space that proved reticent to embrace the radical transformations that art had already undergone on an international level. This all occurred within a local context increasingly dominated by the nationalistic Revolutionary Government of the Armed Forces (1968–75) led by General Juan Velasco Alvarado.

 

Zevallos Hetzel was one of the pioneers of Pop Art in Peru, a member of Arte Nuevo, one of the groups that defined the avant-garde imagery of that era. Nevertheless, this controversy, along with other factors, led him to abandon these modalities shortly thereafter.

Researcher
Daniel Contreras Medina / Gustavo Buntinx
Team
Museo de Arte de Lima, Lima, Peru