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In 1991, the IX Bienal de San Juan del Grabado Latinoamericano y del Caribe [9th San Juan Biennial of Latin and Caribbean American Graphic Art] was held in Puerto Rico. Puerto Rican critic Ernesto Ruiz de la Mata took advantage of the occasion to give a brief account of the different events that occurred at prior biennials. Referring to the Primera Bienal [1st Biennial], the writer notes that Marta Traba, the Argentine critic based in Puerto Rico, considered the first one as the most important. Nevertheless, in spite of its problems over the years, the biennial is still one of the most significant cultural events on the island. The article talks about the proliferation of young Puerto Rican artists who have ventured into the practice of graphic arts. In addition, there is the (sometimes questionable) participation of established artists who mainly work in other media. The writer believes that when these established artists venture into printmaking for the sole reason that there is an approaching biennial, the resulting prints are not very successful. By way of conclusion, the writer offers his scathing criticism of the prizes given at each of the biennials.


The jury of the IX Bienal [9th Biennial] included Juan Acha, Peruvian art critic and professor at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM); Valerie Brière, curator at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris; Patricio Muñoz, president of the Bienal de Cuenca [Cuenca Biennial], in Ecuador; Bélgica Rodriguez, director of the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo Latinoamericano of the [OAS, Organization of American States], in Washington; Myrna Rodríguez, art critic and professor at the Universidad Interamericana de Puerto Rico; Susana Torruella Leval, curator at the Museo del Barrio in New York; and Julio Zachrisson, Panamanian printmaker and professor at the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando, in Madrid.    The Biennial de San Juan del Grabado Latinoamericano was one of the most important events held in the Caribbean region, given that it fostered an exchange of ideas and contact among different artists. The first of these biennials was organized by the Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña [Institute of Puerto Rican Culture] (ICP) in 1970. Printmaking was selected because it was a form of expression that was widely practiced by Puerto Rican artists, who were producing very high quality work. In 1986, “y del Caribe” [and Caribbean] was added to the name of the biennial so it could include that geographic area in the event. Parallel to this change, the biennial included two exhibitions to recognize artists’ work: one to honor a Puerto Rican artist and the other to honor a foreign artist.    Ernesto Ruiz de la Mata (San Juan, 1935–2008) worked as an art critic for the journal San Juan Review from 1965 to 1966, and for the daily newspapers, The San Juan Star, El Mundo, and El Reportero. He did his undergraduate work at the Universidad de Puerto Rico and then earned his master’s degree in Art History at Harvard University. He was a follower of the Spaniard painter Eugenio Fernández Granell, and a member of the Puerto Rican surrealist group, El Mirador Azul [The Blue Outlook]. He served as a juror for several biennials such as the Biennale Internationale d’Art de Menton in France, the International Biennial of Graphic Arts in Yugoslavia, and a consultant to the Bienal de São Paulo, In 1973, he was appointed special assistant for cultural affairs of the newly elected Resident Commissioner in Washington, D.C., Jaime Benítez, a job the art critic held until 1977. In that position, he was an active participant in the cultural life of the U.S. capital. Upon his death, the Puerto Rican daily newspaper, El Vocero, published this tribute: “De la Mata leaves a legacy of articles and writings on art, especially on art in Puerto Rico. These documents are worth gathering and publishing, not only for their erudition, but also for their literary style.”

Flavia Marichal Lugo
Museo de Historia, Antropología y Arte, Universidad de Puerto Rico, San Juan, Puerto Rico
Courtesy of the private archives of Ernesto J. Ruíz De La Mata, San Juan, Puerto Rico