In 1979, the Museo de Bellas Artes in Caracas, the oldest Venezuelan institution dedicated to the visual arts, conducted and published a General Catalogue of its collections of Latin American painting and sculpture. This was part of the museum’s research on its own heritage, which also included art from Europe, the United States, Asia and ancient Egypt. The small Popular Art Department (with only 18 works) would be covered by the Brazilian researcher Luciano Alves Duffrayer. In his essay, he attempts to justify the presence of Haitian, Brazilian and Central American artists, among other anonymous artists in an institution primarily dedicated to “fine art.” He believes the works are there because the old nineteenth-century prejudices that came out of the academies were broken down both by the cultural nationalism of the 1920s as well as the eruption of avant-gardes in Latin America.
Though the essay is a summary, the writer manages to identify both the general and specific traits of the various artists represented. He highlights the set of votive pieces, a genre rooted in the Colonial period, and always linked to supposedly miraculous cures or interventions. The 18 works that represent the MBA’s popular art collection were acquired in 1964 from the Cuban critic, curator and collector José Gómez Sicre. The Cuban art critic had spent time in Venezuela in the 1940s promoting the acknowledgement of popular art (such as the work of Feliciano Carvallo). The visit was also related to a Pan-American modern art exhibition that presented the work of major artists from our countries, which exposure was especially important for the young adults studying art in 1948 at the Taller Libre de Arte (TLA), an institution promoted by Gómez Sicre as well. The general catalogue includes color plates, biographical articles on the artists and a bibliography, all coordinated by the Venezuelan art researcher María Elena Huizi.