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This article is about the lecture that the Dutch artist Karel Appel gave at the gallery Fórum de Lima (February 18, 1976), where he was preparing to show a collection of prints while also working with other artists to paint a mural in Villa El Salvador, the largest slum in Lima. In addition to talking about the more social and participatory aspects of the latter experience, the founder of the COBRA group discusses the modernity of Andean retablos (the little altars handcrafted in traditional style), which he describes as an example of “Dada folklore.” Appel says: “When I saw that little box with so many things, so many people inside, for me that was Dada. (…) When the box was closed it was also beautiful, also Dada. And that is art.” He also criticizes Peruvian visual art education, reporting that what he saw in a Peruvian school (which he did not identify) had nothing to do with art.
What [Christiaan] Karel Appel (1921–2006) said about indigenous Andean altar pieces being “Dada folklore” assumed particular significance because he made his remarks during the fierce debate over the supposed boundaries between “fine art” and “popular art” that began just a few weeks earlier when the Premio Nacional de Cultura was awarded to the artisan Joaquín López Antay, an apparent snub to so-called “learned” visual artists. Appel’s support for the decision came as a fresh perspective in the midst of a strong clash of opinions.
[Regarding the Premio Nacional de Cultura, see the following articles in the ICAA digital archive: by Alfonso Castrillón, Leslie Lee, and Carlos Bernasconi “Fundamentación para el dictamen por mayoría simple a favor del artista popular Joaquín López Antay” (doc. no. 1135896); by Alfonso Bermúdez “Premio a López Antay suscita controversias. Unos: consagración del arte popular. Otros: una cosa es arte y otra artesanía” (doc. no. 1135879); by Francisco Abril de Vivero, Luis Cossío Marino, and Alberto Dávila “Artistas plásticos cuestionan premio” (doc. no. 1135960); and (unattributed) “‘No todos nos quieren ni en Lima ni en Ayacucho’: así comentó sobre cuestionamiento a premio” (doc. no. 1135930)].
The following night (February 19, 1976), Appel gave a talk entitled “Arte y Asentamientos Humanos” at the Instituto Nacional de Cultura (INC), in the presence of Peruvian critics and artists who were involved in awarding the prize to López Antay, such as José Bracamonte Vera (1928–83), Alfonso Castrillón (b. 1935), Gastón Garreaud (1934–2005), and Leslie Lee (1932–2014).
[Regarding this talk, see the following articles in the archive: (unattributed) “Pobladores de Villa El Salvador pintarán murales en la calle dirigidos por el artista Appel” (doc. no. 865645); (unattributed) “Muralista holandés pintó para los niños de Villa El Salvador” (doc. no. 865517); (unattributed) “Cosas de la Villa” (doc. no. 865627); by Luis Freire Sarria “La Cobra en Villa El Salvador (I)” (doc. no. 865607); (unattributed) “El pueblo muralista” (doc. no. 865664); and by Fietta Jarque “¿Mural que muere?: en Villa El Salvador” (doc. no. 865683)].