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Synopsis

In this newspaper article, Eduardo Robles Piquer (alias RAS) describes the exhibition Homenaje a la necrofilia and interviews the painter and writer Carlos Contramaestre, whose work is shown at the exhibition, and who is a member of El Techo de la Ballena, the radical group that was started in the 1960s in Caracas. Robles Piquer provides a brief account of Contramaestre’s career, and classifies his work as a form of magical realism. He describes the works in the exhibition as “relief paintings” that combine animal bones, entrails, and color. In the interview, Contramaestre explains that his intention is to create works in a “hideous language that can alter the structure of the established order.” As distinct from the work of earlier revolutionaries who sought to express their anguish through their art, Contramaestre produces conscious works that make no attempt to shed his anguish, choosing instead to coexist with it. 

Annotations

The Spanish-born architect, caricaturist, and critic Eduardo Robles Piquer (1910–93), alias RAS, who lived in Venezuela, published this review of Homenaje a la necrofilia—the exhibition of works by the Venezuelan doctor, painter, and writer Carlos Contramaestre—on the eve of the exhibition’s opening. Given the unusual, extravagant, and in some cases repulsive nature of the works, it is interesting to note the ease and equanimity with which RAS describes Contramaestre’s art and acknowledges his “artistic sensitivity” and talent. Similarly, as RAS interviews the artist, he ignores Contramaestre’s occasionally absurd remarks. The interviewer’s calm style is in stark contrast to press reports that conveyed the anger and outright condemnation expressed almost unanimously in cultural circles and by the public. This was unquestionably the most controversial exhibition ever organized by the El Techo de la Ballena group, as was borne out in a subsequent article, also written by RAS and published on November 22, 1962 in La Esfera, the Caracas newspaper, which quoted some of the furious, disparaging responses from artists and other members of the cultural elite.     

 

El Techo de la Ballena was a group of visual artists and writers from the Venezuelan avant-garde who (from 1961 until 1968) combined a range of different disciplines—visual art, poetry, photography, film, and action art, among others—to create a revolutionary form of art that, in their opinion, challenged and contradicted every traditional socio-cultural value during the decade of greatest political violence that Venezuela had ever experienced. The group saw themselves as the artistic expression of that chaotic period, and viewed guerrilla warfare, intellectual leftist ideas, repression, and cities devastated by the forced and accelerated developmental model of the country’s nascent democracy as their frame of reference. The visual artists in the group embraced informalism as their aesthetic, to which they added a potent shot of aggressiveness to counter the values of geometric abstraction, traditional landscape painting, and even social realism, and adopted a strategy that was subversive, provocative, irrational, and surrealistic. The group produced numerous publications—including the three issues of the magazine Rayado sobre el techo—and exhibitions. Members of the group included the Venezuelans 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, as well as artists from other countries who were living in Venezuela at the time, such as the Chilean Dámaso Ogaz and the Spaniards J. M. Cruxent, Ángel Luque, and Antonio Moya.

Researcher
Josefina Manrique
Team
Fundación Mercantil, Caracas, Venezuela
Credit
Eduardo Robles Piquer, 1962
Location
Hemeroteca - Mapoteca Carlos Felice Cardot. Academia Nacional de la Historia. Palacio de Las Academias. Av. Universidad, Esquinas San Francisco, Caracas.