Documents of 20th-century Latin American and Latino Art

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Synopsis

In this open letter by Alejandro Otero [Rodríguez] to his  journalist friend, Miguel Otero Silva, the Venezuelan artist brings forth his objection to the National Sculpture Award given to the Spanish sculptor Eduardo Gregorio at the XVIII Salón Oficial de Arte Venezolano of 1957 (El Universal, March 18 of that same year). Otero Rodríguez shows to be in favor of the ongoing controversies as they make the artist to define himself, even at the risk of being labeled by the arrogant, as he labels them, similarly to what happened in 1953 following the comments he made on an exhibition presented by the Ecuadorian artist Oswaldo Guayasamín. About the 1957 salón, Otero Rodríguez felt all the art trends were well represented at the show but felt that the judging was lopsided, as only one of the trends prevailed. It is for this matter that the Venezuelan artist concludes by advocating openly reasoned verdicts, so that the perceived merits of the winning work are made known.

Annotations

Between March 20 and April 25, 1957, one of the most significant art disputes published in the pages of the Caracas daily newspaper El Nacional was on the validity, or not, of the abstract art movement when confronted with the nationalistic support of traditional landscape art as well as with social realism. In addition to being friends, the contenders of this text were also cousins: the abstract and geometric artist Alejandro Otero [Rodríguez] (1921-90) and the writer with communistic tendencies and editor of the El Nacional, Miguel Otero Silva. In addition to validating the doubts of the artist, previously unveiled in a statement made by the artist to the newspaper El Universal (“Disiente del criterio del jurado el pintor Alejandro Otero, por lo que atañe al Premio de Escultura,” March 18, 1957), this letter was an invitation to the debate of the abstract art movement and other related topics (art shows, juries, and others). The curious thing about this letter was that its publication coincided with the first article written by Miguel Otero Silva (“Sobre unas declaraciones disidentes del pintor Alejandro Otero Rodríguez”) and by the fact that both men—according to the Editor’s note—had not read them respectively. The evident importance of the dispute was when the article became the most reproduced document in the field of visual arts in Venezuela, not only because of its high intellectual standard but also, because of it, a decade of national cultural skepticism regarding the abstract art movement came to an end.

 

The first instance regarding the end of said skepticism began in 1948 with the controversy between the artists Miguel Arroyo and César Rengifo, even being highlighted in other countries such as Colombia (“La polémica del año,” by Teresa Tejada, published in Prisma Magazine, nos. 11-12, Bogotá, November-December, 1957). It was also published in Argentina by the Cuban writer Juan Marinello (“Conversación con nuestro pintores abstractos,” Meditacion Americana, Buenos Aires, Porción, 1959), and by the Spanish writer Guillermo de Torre (“Abstracción, no figuración, informalismo y compañía,” Minorías y masas en el arte contemporáneo, Buenos Aires: E.D.H.A.S.A, 1963).

 

The letter dated March 19, 1957 from San Antonio de los Altos, a town near Caracas, where the artist had his home and workshop, was published the next day. The essays in question (excluding the original statements made by the artist), were reproduced the same year as Polémica sobre arte abstracto (Caracas: Ministerio de Educación Nacional, 1957). Subsequently there were several editions: Juan Calzadilla’s El Arte en Venezuela, Caracas, 1967, Edición Especial del Círculo de Bellas Artes; Sergio Antillano’s  Los Salones de Arte (Caracas: Maraven, 1976); the book compiled by Douglas Monroy and Luisa Pérez Gil, Alejandro Otero, Memoria Crítica (Caracas: Monte Ávila y Galería de Arte Nacional, 1994); and, finally, the one by Roldán Esteva-Grillet Fuentes documentales y críticas de las artes plásticas venezolanas: siglo XIX y XX, Vol. II (Caracas: UCV, 2001).

Researcher
María Elena Huizi & Roldan Esteva Grillet
Team
Fundación Mercantil, Caracas, Venezuela
Credit
Reproduced with permission of Carolina and Mercedes Otero, Estado de Miranda, Venezuela
Location
Hemeroteca - Mapoteca Carlos Felice Cardot. Academia Nacional de la Historia. Palacio de las Academias. Av. Universidad, Esquina San Francisco, Caracas.