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This is an introduction written by Juan Calzadilla for the first iteration of Espacios Vivientes (Living Spaces), a salón held at the Palacio Municipal in Maracaibo, Venezuela from February 14 to 28, 1960, that explored new currents in the visual arts. To contextualize the work shown, Calzadilla provides a survey of movements in global art since World War II that have shaped artistic output in 1960. He argues the work shown in Espacios Vivientes is primarily “informal” painting, characterized by a rejection of figuration and a dynamic, even explosive approach to materials. The precursors for these current strategies include German expressionists like Wassily Kandinsky; Surrealists like Max Ernst and Andre Breton; American Abstract Expressionist painters like Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning; artists like Mark Tobey whose work focuses on markmaking and calligraphy, and postwar European artists like Wols, Jean Dubuffet and Jean Fautrier. The destruction of images, Calzadilla argues, in addition to innovative approaches to artistic materials, are crucial in re-approaching the dynamics between the self and the outer world. Informal painting, like that exemplified in Espacios Vivientes, “raises the need for total freedom of action... to aid the design of a new vision of the cosmos.” This exhibition and its essay were critical in establishing informal art as a dominant style in Venezuela.
This exhibition was comprehensive, with 34 artists included in the checklist. It helped launch the careers of several major participants in the movement such as Jorge Castillo, Carlos Contramaestre, Daniel Gonzalez, and Esteban Muro, and was sponsored by the University of Zulia, the Department of Culture at Central University of Venezuela, and Venezuela’s Museum of Fine Arts. The salon also features an unusually high number of women artists including Amanda Abreaza, Mary Brandt, Teresa Casanova, Mercedes Pardo, Luisa Richter, and Maruja Rolando. When Juan Calzadilla wrote the essay for this exhibition, his intention was to place the artists on a global map of cultural producers. His range of historical artists is therefore broad in scope, with particular attention placed on Venezuela’s role within international modernist movements. He pays particular attention to compositional strategies that use diverse materials-- for instance, Cubist collage, which provides a “valuable textural experience for Informal painters”. When the term “informal” was an international movement that was itself in its infancy (according to historian Ariel Jiménez, these artists’ version of it amounted to “an unruly eruption of textures and marks”), this essay was especially important in creating a genealogy of this tactic and style. It was instrumental in giving artists permission to embrace violent modes of artistic and social change.
Juan Calzadilla co-founded the Venezuelan avant-garde group El Techo de Ballena (Caracas, 1961–68) and was heavily involved in the emerging ecosystem of avant-garde galleries in Caracas, including the influential gallery Sala Mendoza. For more essays by Calzadilla on artists he considered influential, see “Manuel Quintana Castillo: anotaciones para los fragmentos de un muro escrito” [see the ICAA digital archive (doc. no.1156168)], “La pintura de Armando Barrios” (doc. no.1163238), and “La pintura de Carlos Contramaestre” (doc. no. 868632).