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This article gives an account of the repudiation that came from the cultural and political sectors in Venezuela against the endorsement of a manifesto defending the exhibition Homenaje a la necrofilia by Carlos Contramaestre that was organized by El Techo de la Ballena. The author of the article describes the members of the radical Venezuelan avant-garde group as well as all those who signed the manifesto in its defense as “homosexuals,” “perverts,” and “extremists.” Among the declared insults recorded by the author, the artist Pedro Centeno Vallenilla claims that the group suffered from the complex of the “savage who enjoys excrement.” In a similar vein, the poet Pedro Antonio Vázquez brands El Techo de la Ballena as “indecent” and the writer Manuel Rodríguez Cárdenas considered how they “contributed nothing” to Venezuelan art. The novelist Alecia Marciano, too, considered them “ridiculous” and the youth of the AD-ARS political party considered it an act of corruption that the catalogue had been produced at the press of the Universidad Central de Venezuela.
Of all the exhibitions organized by El Techo de la Ballena, “Homenaje a la Necrofilia”, presented at their gallery on November 1962, was the most controversial for having unleashed the anger and repudiation of the cultural and political worlds, and the public in general. Additionally, the press of the Universidad Central de Venezuela was also under attack for allowing the catalogue to be produced there. The backlash, a wave of rejection, which was the intended objective of the exhibition, was virulent, intense, and passionate, as shown in this article. In a way, it was completely consistent with the group’s provocation. What is characteristic of the disapprovals referenced in the article are the personal attacks aimed at the authors and supporters of the exhibition. Secondly, the article attempted to disqualify the artistic content and practice without much argumentative support. The appeals of “homosexuality” and “perversion” foisted unto the members of El Techo de la Ballena were merged with other moralizing insults such as “indecency,” “obscenity,” and political blasphemies such as “subversives,” “Communists,” and “extremists.” These offenses were of such great magnitude that even the poet Manuel Rodríguez Cárdenas, who had not seen the exhibition nor read the catalogue, hurried to add his voice to the chorus of the indignant.
El Techo de la Ballena was a group of artists and writers of the Venezuelan avant-garde that between 1961 and 1968 combined a number of different disciplines: visual arts, poetry, photography, cinema, and action art, among others, to create a revolutionary kind of art that questioned traditional social and cultural values during one of the most violent decades in Venezuelan political history—the sixties. Guerilla warfare, the intellectual left’s proclamations, repression, cities deformed by the forced, accelerated development model of the nascent Venezuelan democracy were the group’s frame of reference. In the visual arts, El Techo de la Ballena incorporated the aesthetics of Informalism, adding strong doses of aggression to counteract geometric abstraction as well as the values of traditional landscape art, and even social realism. This was their subversive, provocative, irrational, and surreal strategy. Their exhibitions were complemented by radical print materials including the three issues of the magazine Rayado sobre el Techo.
The leading members of the group were Venezuelan: Carlos Contramaestre, Juan Calzadilla, Caupolicán Ovalles, Edmundo Aray, Francisco Pérez Perdomo, Salvador Garmendia, Adriano González León, Fernando Irazábal, Daniel González, Gabriel Morera, Gonzalo Castellanos, and Perán Erminy; and a few foreigners who had settled in the country, including the Chilean Dámaso Ogaz, and the Spaniards J. M. Cruxent, Ángel Luque, and Antonio Moya.