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Art critic Ceferino Palencia identified the advantages of contests such as the one held within the context of the Inter-American Biennial of Painting and Printmaking. In the first place, he said, such contests gave painters the possibility of competing against one another and improving their pictorial œuvre. The second benefit was appreciated by the winner who, with the economic support received, might work calmly for a certain period of time. The third advantage involved the exchange of ideas and pictorial languages between painters from different countries. As Palencia walked through the exhibition, many examples of “abstract” art caught his attention; according to him, these were copies of the so-called Paris School. Mexican painting had many defects, but it was important to recognize that a school with a well-defined concept had evolved. Nevertheless Palencia considered that the pictorial art of the Americas was experiencing a grave spiritual crisis, and that it lacked direction and originality.


In Mexico acceptance of abstract art was late and plagued with obstacles; its existence bothered many painters, public officials, and art critics. As the result of the protests sparked by the 1958 biennial, cultural officials began to introduce small modifications to the formulation of cultural policies. Ceferino Palencia, a Spanish critic residing in Mexico, rejected abstract art, considering it to be nothing more than a “wild card or pretext to justify ineptitude and incapacities in sentiment and execution.” Comments like these gave way to even more confusion among the public that was now grappling with the meaning of these abstract works. The debate surrounding the Cold War continued to influence the artistic and cultural milieu of the day. In Palencia’s view, abstract art was a dehumanized language, bereft of content and manipulated by capitalist market forces, and was clashing against a figurative style that issued messages of Communist and Socialist propaganda better known as “real socialism.” Polarization continued to be the sign of the times, as did controversies of a totalizing character.

Ana María Torres : CEPE, U.N.A.M. / CURARE A. C.
CURARE, Espacio crítico para las artes, Mexico City, Mexico
Courtesy of Carlos Alberto Palencia García, Mexico City, México
Biblioteca Miguel Lerdo de Tejada de la Secretaría de Hacienda y Crédito Público