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The author, Antonino Espinosa Saldaña, proposes to replace the course name “Arte incaico” [Incan Art]—used by the ENBA beginning in 1930, with “Arqueología pre-incaica y su aplicación a las artes decorativas” [pre-Incan archeology and its application to the decorative arts] given that in his judgment, appreciation for the pre-Hispanic past does not benefit contemporary art, unless as something “purely decorative.” The author states that this limitation would be even greater in the field of architecture. He questions the notion that Tahuantinsuyo [the Incan Empire]—exalted by Augusto Aguirre Morales in his novel El pueblo del sol [The People of the Sun]— had necessarily brought about an artistic apogee, and he argues that Incan art constituted an era of decadence in light of other cultures in the region that preceded it. Thus the subject is not worthy of specialization; he likewise believes pre-Columbian art is noteworthy for its archeological objects, but only for technique and decorative value, both of which are inapplicable in the desire to create a “national style.”


This is the response of painter Antonino Espinosa Saldaña to the letter by Augusto Aguirre Morales published on May 28, 1930 regarding the comments generated by the creation of a course on “Incan Art” at the ENBA (Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes) at the beginning of 1930.


By defining the idea of national identity in western terms, Espinosa directed his criticism against those who equated “the indigenous” (past or current) with “Peruvian identity.” The responses (such as that by Augusto Aguirre) had identified the indigenous past as a unique “inheritance” that could shape an “Indo-American” identity. The debate played out in the essay written by Espinosa, and also in the press through letters written by intellectuals (Héctor Velarde and Mariano Ibérico, among others). Beyond the artistic debate, José Sabogal’s eloquent silence revealed the mostly ethnographic interest of indigenism.


At the beginning of the 1930s, a new arts group arose in Lima: Los Duendes, a group of painters who embraced a symbolism with roots in literature that incorporated Art Deco elements, and whose aesthetic proposal was founded as an alternative to the prevailing indigenous art trend. Brought together around poet José María Eguren (1874–1942), the first and only collective exhibition of these “independent Peruvians” was held in June 1931. Antonino Espinosa Saldaña was the only member of the group who sustained an artistic career, although he did not participate in the show. Perhaps because of this, his work generated a brief exchange of opinions within the local scene on the elusive categorization of this type of proposal. In December 1933, Espinosa exhibited a collection of ceramics and tempera paintings, which included a pictorial interpretation (akin to abstraction) of Maurice Ravel’s Bolero. With titles such as El tiempo [Time] and La inteligencia [Intelligence], the works claimed an allegorical density in a genre and style considered “decorative.” Critic Carlos Raygada pointed out this contradiction and questioned the relevance of the timid experimentalism present in some of his “movement” studies. The as yet unidentified F. H. Dursself praised the dynamism of these works, affirming their germinal role within a new avant-garde art.


[For further reading, see in the ICAA digital archive by Augusto Aguirre Morales “A propósito del curso de ‘arte incaico’ en la Escuela de Bellas Artes” (doc. no. 1143570)].

Ricardo Kusunoki
Museo de Arte de Lima, Lima, Peru
Courtesy of Antonio Espinoza Laña, Lima, Peru