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The Puerto Rican writer, Nilita Vientós Gastón, forcefully criticizes an article in The New Yorker (January 26, 1957) and another in The New York Times about a Puerto Rican art exhibition held at the Riverside Museum in New York from January 6 to 27, 1957. The writer of The New Yorker review states that “paintingbegan eight or ten years ago, with the inauguration of the government-sponsored Instituto de Cultura” [ICP, Institute of Puerto Rican Culture]. The journalist comments that, “Until a few years ago . . . Puerto Ricans practiced only the most elementary folk arts . . . .” Vientós Gastón declares that the writers of these articles do not know a thing about the history of Puerto Rican art. They are dead wrong about painting starting to appear in Puerto Rico only in the last decade with the foundation of the ICP. She overtly questions opinions such as these, and not just because they are anachronistic (since the ICP was established in 1955). She also considers it extreme to claim that any single agency—whether public or private—was solely responsible for all the artwork created by a given people.
This exhibition was reviewed by the New York press. Among the critics who wrote about it were Dore Ashton, of the The New York Times; Emily Genauer, of the New York Tribune; Charles Warner, of the New York Sunday News; and Robert M. Coates, of The New Yorker magazine. There was a great deal of controversy and unease among Puerto Rican artists about the comments made by one of the critics. The ten artists who traveled to New York under the auspices of the Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña (ICP) had a great cultural experience when they visited major museums and art centers. The ten visiting artists were: Julio Rosado del Valle, Carlos Raquel Rivera, Lorenzo Homar, Rafael Tufiño, Epifanio Irizarry, Eduardo Vera, Luis Cajigas, Felix Bonilla, Samuel Sanchez, and Manuel Hernandez. The exhibition included more than 100 works.
Nilita Vientós Gastón (San Sebastián, PR, 1903–1989) was a professor of comparative literature at the Universidad de Puerto Rico, Río Piedras campus. She was editor of the journal, Asomante [Emerging], and founded the magazine Sin Nombre [Nameless]. She wrote the column, “ÍndiceCultural” [Cultural Index] in the newspaper, El Mundo, from 1962 to 1984, using that space to defend cultural progress in Puerto Rico.
For more information about the exhibition: “Pinturas Boricuas NY. Artistas comentan éxito exposición” [Puerto Rican Painters NYC: Artists Comment on the Successful Exhibition.] (see doc. No. 854572); “Para gloria de Puerto Rico, la exposición en Riverside” [For the Glory of Puerto Rico, the Exhibition at Riverside] (doc. No. 854539); “Ricardo E. Alegría comenta éxito exposición de artistas boricuas N.Y.” [Ricardo E. Alegría Comments on the Successful Exhibition by Puerto Rican Artists] (doc. No. 854591), among others.