Documents of 20th-century Latin American and Latino Art Home


Document first page thumbnail

The author of this document claims that Colombian painting has no past. According to the Argentine critic Marta Traba, the visual arts produced in Colombia from the late nineteenth century through the mid-twentieth century are of no interest whatsoever; they are utterly devoid of creativity and consist of nothing but frivolous, obsequious painting. Traba acknowledges the technical advances made by nineteenth-century artists in their work. But in her opinion, none of the twentieth-century artists that she mentions—Luis Alberto Acuña Tapias, Alipio Jaramillo, Pedro Nel Gómez, Carlos Correa, and Ignacio Gómez Jaramillo—ever came up with any revolutionary ideas at all. She considers their work to be extremely conservative, and says that “neither pictorial socialism, nor realism, nor those horrendous distortions” managed to “disrupt the traditional forms of painting.” According to Traba, it was not until the arrival of the painter Alejandro Obregón, and those who came after him, that Colombian painting was able to rid itself of traditional themes, making Obregón one of the founding fathers of modern Colombian painting. Among the other pioneers of local modern art, Traba names Ramírez Villamizar, Fernando Botero, Guillermo Wiedemann, and Enrique Grau. She also recognizes the work of Judith Márquez Montoya, Cecilia Porras de Child, and Carlos Rojas, who was a student at that time, and who she includes because of what she sees as his promising potential.  


This document reveals the aggressive stance taken by the Argentine critic Marta Traba (1923–1983) during the 1950s and 1960s, when she was living in Bogotá. She arrived in Colombia in 1954 and from the very beginning of her career as an art critic, strongly favored modern art. In view of the controversy surrounding modern art at the time and the substantial resistance there was to it, Traba’s stance meant that she was at odds with the culture as a whole rather than just the artistic milieu, and she used her critiques to incite a break with local art traditions, encouraging artists and the public alike to embrace modern art. During this period, Traba consigned to tabula rasa the works of those who came before the ones she considered “modern artists.” She is also highly critical of the works of the artists known as “Los Bachués” who are mentioned in the article, and who she lumps together with Mexican mural painters, condemning their disastrous role in the field of Latin American art.    

Marta Traba modified her views to some extent during the 1970s, as a result of other events in Colombian art circles, such as the arrival of new critics and researchers (especially historians, philosophers, and artists) who focused on Colombian art; the emergence of a school of landscape artists in the early twentieth century and the first exhibition of Colombian landscape artists at the Museum of Modern Art in Bogotá in 1975; and the publication of the seven volume Historia del Arte Colombiano [History of Colombian Art] under the direction of Eugenio Barney Cabrera (1977), among other events devoted to exposing and appreciating the hitherto unknown work of Colombian visual artists from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.


Ruth Acuña Prieto
Universidad de los Andes, Bogota, Colombia
Courtesy of Fernando Zalamea Traba, Bogotá, Colombia