This is a brief newspaper review of Carlos Cruz-Diez’s first solo exhibition. It is of interest because it is among the earliest reviews of his work, which at that time took a nationalist approach and was politically focused. The exhibition Manuel Trujillo refers to in his critical review presented the artist’s illustrations for the calendar produced every year by ESSO (1948), the North American Standard Oil Company, which employed Cruz-Diez as a graphic designer. His “cardboard sheets” depicted popular themes related to each month. For the month of January, he chose the Arrival of the Kings (celebrated in Catholic countries on January 6th) which, in Caracas, was represented by processions that made their way downtown from the slopes of the Ávila hills north of the city. The event celebrates the arrival of the three wise men who come to worship the baby Jesus, and is the day when Venezuelan children receive their end-of-year gifts. His theme for November was the Flower Vendor at the Cemetery, a reference to All Saints Day. He chose similarly relevant themes for each month of the year.
Cruz-Diez approached his monthly themes from a Marxist perspective (the communist party had been legalized in Venezuela in 1945 and some of his closest friends were active members, including the poet Aquiles Nazoa). His works showed his interest in national, creole, and traditional folk subjects, presenting the sort of themes that were commonly promoted by communist parties all over Latin America. He also depicted the racial diversity of Venezuelan society by including black, indigenous, mestizo, and white children in his scenes, as distinct from the usual advertising that only featured white people. Though it might seem contradictory for an American oil company to hire a leftist artist and require him to address popular subjects of the kind sanctioned by the communist party, it was all a strategy designed to present ESSO as a company that was sensitive to the interests of the masses.
In terms of a visual art perspective, references to the traditional themes of Flemish artists such as Pieter Bruegel the Elder (whom Trujillo identifies here as “primitive” or “Renaissance”) had a clear political connotation for Cruz-Diez. Just as Bruegel often portrayed the lives of workers and ordinary people, Cruz-Diez sought to do the same in his country, condemning the poverty and the conditions in which the Venezuela people were forced to live. Trujillo ends his review by surreptitiously encouraging the artist to pursue his art career, but to eschew “any other sort of interest,” an obvious reference to his Marxist leanings.