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Art critic Jorge Juan Crespo de la Serna believed that it was unfair to lodge harsh criticism against an international art competition like the first Bienal Interamericana de Pintura y Grabado [Inter-American Biennial of Painting and Printmaking], because this one in particular was the first event of its kind held in Mexico. Aside from the errors that were inevitable for an event of this magnitude, it was a landmark occurrence and an honor for Mexico. As the attorney-at-law Miguel Álvarez Acosta stressed on several occasions, it would make great contributions to the study and dissemination of the various paths taken and achievements made in art as well as artistic thought across the Americas. In addition, it was an opportunity to establish a dialogue between painters of different stylistic approaches. Despite the absence of certain important painters, Crespo de la Serna’s overall impression of the exhibition was that it implied extremely high standards.


Jorge Juan Crespo de la Serna believed that, beyond debating the failure of the first Bienal Interamericana de Pintura y Grabado [Inter-American Biennial of Painting and Printmaking], it was important to acknowledge that events of this kind served both to open spaces for dialogue and to exhibit a diversity of styles. Moreover, regarding the debate between figuration and abstraction, the art critic stated his belief that some painters continued to be true to a folkloric, static kind of realism, while others had opted for the abstract languages of art that, in his opinion, were part of a monotonous art form that followed a paradigm that implied the negation of painting. Very few, as in the case of Candido Portinari (1903–1962), chose the redemptive path of a synthetic conciliation of both tendencies. Crespo de la Serna noted that in both opposing trends it was possible to discern valuable signs of sheer originality. This actually coincided with the position of Rufino Tamayo (1899–1991) whose art was semi-figurative.

Miguel Álvarez Acosta, director of the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes (INBA, 1954–58), and Miguel Salas Anzures, chair of the Department of Visual Arts (1957–61) of the National Institute of Fine Arts and Literature (INBAL), were the organizers of the two biennials held at the Museo Nacional de Artes Plásticas (Palacio de Bellas Artes). 

The first biennial, held from June 6 to September 30, 1958, consisted of four exhibition-tributes dedicated to José Clemente Orozco, Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros, and Brazilian painter Candido Portinari. There was widespread disgruntlement with this biennial, due to the organization and the interference of the Frente Nacional de Artes Plásticas [National Front for Visual Arts] in the jury panel. At the second biennial, held in 1960, many artists including José Luis Cuevas, Francisco Icaza, and Arnold Belkin, among others, refused to participate in protest of the imprisonment of David Alfaro Siqueiros. Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Chile, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, the United States, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Puerto Rico, and Venezuela were the countries that took part in both events.

The official name of the biennial, and the one that was most commonly used, was "Bienal Interamericana de Pintura y Grabado" [Inter-American Biennial of Painting and Printmaking], though it was also known as the "Bienal de Artes Plásticas" [Visual Arts Biennial], "Bienal Panamericana de Pintura" [Pan-American Painting Biennial], among other coinages.

Ana María Torres : CEPE, U.N.A.M. / CURARE A. C.
CURARE, Espacio crítico para las artes, Mexico City, Mexico
Courtesy of Ady Crespo Weber, Mexico City, Mexico
Instituto de Investigaciones Bibliográficas : Biblioteca Nacional/Hemeroteca Nacional