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Art for the Eighties


Álvaro Barrios, 1980

"Art for the Eighties" is a show organized by La Tertulia Museum of Modern Art in Cali to be held in that city in May, at the Contemporary Art Center of Pereira in June, and at the Museum of Modern Art of Medellín in August. The exhibition has brought together a representative group of Colombian artists who in the last five years have worked in the area of Process Art, that is, an art that directs its efforts towards the very process that creates and gives substance to the artistic act. This movement towards an art in which its ideas superced, or even replace, its own formal resolution was born, in my opinion, from the vacuum created in Colombian art in the first five years of the previous decade, which could be considered a transitional period in the history of contemporary Colombian art. In effect, at the beginning of the 1970s there were no widely recognized, significant new names, and as such, no important ideas enriched its history. There was not, as in the 1950s, the vitality and content of proposals like the ones by Alejandro Obregón, Edgar Negret, Fernando Botero, Guillermo Wiedemman and Enrique Grau. Nor the equivalent of the proposals, in the following years, of Beatriz González, Santiago Cárdenas, Pedro Alcántara, Bernardo Salcedo, Feliza Bursztyn and Luis Caballero. In this parenthesis-period we could mention, however, a sole name, Antonio Caro, who consolidated his prestige by contributing a new language, containing notable content, to the visual arts of the country. It was above all a period of gestation that created a favorable climate for a fundamental change that would encompass every tendency in Colombian art.


Keeping this in mind, "Art for the Eighties" avoided making a general selection of new Colombian art—which features extremely serious practitioners, particularly in the fields of abstract art and sculpture— to present, broadly, only those which can be considered inside the vast field of Process Art.


On the other hand, the show does not assume an anthological or historical character. It gives preference to new names in current Colombian art and especially to those artists’ recent or current research. Therefore, the showing does not include names such as Beatriz González, Bernardo Salcedo, Feliza Bursztyn, Santiago Cárdenas, or mine, all of whom, in one form or another, have contributed in no small measure to the development of Process Art in Colombia (1).


Also, at the moment of organizing the exhibit, the Barranquilla group "El Sindicato" had dissolved, which precluded its participation in the event. In total, there were twenty-four artists: Alicia Barney, Javier Iván Barrios, Adolfo Bernal, Delfina Bernal, Antonio Caro, Iginio Caro, Rodrigo Castaño, Fernando Cepeda, Jorge Mario Gómez, Patricia Gómez, Fabio Antonio Ramírez, Ramiro Gómez, Fabio González, Álvaro Herazo, Eduardo Hernández, Sandra Isabel Llano, Raúl Marroquín, Sara Modiano, Jorge Ortiz, Geo Ripley, María Rodríguez, Víctor Sánchez, Luis Fernando Valencia and Argemiro Vélez. Geographically, this group is distributed in the following way: nine artists work in Barranquilla, seven in Medellín, four in Bogotá, one in Cali, one in Mexico, one in Holland, and one in London. The majority of them responded, as expected, with proposals that collectively demonstrate a facet of Colombian art which, to this date, has only been featured in isolation in some National Art Salons and in the latest Atenas Salon.


Nevertheless, some of the artists who gained recognition through their work with the Salón Atenas were invited to "Art for the Eighties" with pieces very different conceptually from their earlier work. This is the case of Fabio González, whose ceramic stones bring him close to the conceptualism of Hyperrealist art (it is precisely the absolute absence of this concept that makes the work of the Colombian hyperrealists so anodyne). This is in contrast with the cookies, pieces of cake, coin purses, etc. —clearly reminiscent of Pop Art— which he showed in the Salón Atenas. Or the case of María Rodríguez, who was invited for her esoteric posters (with mantras and fragments of sacred texts) and not for her works made from broken mirrors.


Others, such as Antonio Caro, sent works that were already well-known (Homenaje a Manuel Quintín Lame [Homage to Manuel Quintín Lame]), as was the case of Eduardo Hernández (La letra con sangre entra [a popular saying equivalent to Spare the rod and spoil the child]), Sandra Isabel Llano (Electrocardiogramas y Electroencefalogramas [Electrocardiograms and Electroencephalograms]) and Rodrigo Castaño (the Salón Atenas videos). Some artists participated with minor works, such as Geo Ripley, whose installations with live indigenous people and missionaries were replaced with photographic documentation presented in an inexplicable and gratuitous visual composition. Or, for example, Ramiro Gómez, who after his experimental efforts in De lo Espiritual en el Arte [Concerning the Spiritual in Art] (2) (in which he exhibited a bundle of damp wood) and in La idea como arte en Barranquilla [The Idea as Art in Barranquilla] (3) (in which he exhibited the branch of a tree covered in black electrical tape), he decided to create one of the most conservative pieces of the salon: sculptures on pedestals (!), part of his already traditional series of vertical objects made with wooden latticework. Although the intention of the exhibition was not solely to promote innovative or experimental works, it is still strange that an artist such as Ramiro Gómez would present such conventional art. As one may recall, the work of Ramiro Gómez is known for being based on the rejection of a conventional vision of artistic creation (objects with human hair, dog teeth, mummified frogs and salamanders, insects, live plants, etcetera).


On the other hand, "Art for the Eighties" served to confirm the new values of young Colombian art. One important example is that of Alicia Barney. Her work of ecological criticism entitled Yumbo (4) is a valuable contribution to the field of research-as-art in Colombia. This idea, whether that of individuals or groups (as is the case of the three architects from Medellín: Patricia Gómez, Jorge Mario Gómez, and Fabio Antonio Ramírez, who presented a serious, intellectual proposal for a monument to José Martí in Cali), is an important facet of contemporary art that until now had not existed in Colombia with such intensity and professionalism.


With that in mind, this exhibit features artists who present Artistic Acts and not "works," as is the case of Delfina Bernal (her Declaración de Amor a Jeff Perrone [Love Declaration to Jeff Perrone]) displays a refined and intelligent sense of humor), Víctor Sánchez (in which a telephone rings every three minutes so that the audience can listen to declarations from Marcel Duchamp and, if they want, discuss them with Sánchez himself, who is on the other end of the line in some part of the city), and the aforementioned series by Eduardo Hernández, consisting of texts written by the artist with his own blood.


There are other very sophisticated works, such as Adolfo Bernal’s posters, Mapas para estar en dos lugares a la vez [Maps for Being in Two Places at the Same Time] by Alvaro Herazo, or the photography of Luis Fernando Valencia and Jorge Ortiz. The interests of these artists are very far removed from the photographs of crime reports by Javier Iván Barrios or the brick constructions of Sara Modiano, the rubber seals of Raúl Marroquín, the blank canvases of Argemiro Vélez, or the almanacs of Fernando Cepeda.


Finally, for reasons that were no fault of the exhibit’s organizers, some names could not be included, such as Jonier Marín, Jon Oberlaender and Miguel Ángel Rojas. Their research would fit very well with the exhibit, giving a new profile of contemporary Colombian art, an undertaking to which the artists invited to "Art for the Eighties" contribute in different measures, inspired by a fresh and renovating intellectual attitude, always lucid and analytic.




(1) The furniture and curtains of Beatriz González, as well as her works meant to be sold by length in centimeters; Histéricas [Hysterical Women], Camas [Beds], and Baila Mecánica [Mechanical Dance] by Felizia Bursztyn; Las bolsas de heno [Bags of  Hay] and Multiplicaciones by Salcedo, Tableros [Blackboards] and the Environmental Space by Santiago Cárdenas in 1968, and Grabados Populares [Popular Prints] by Alvaro Barrios are some examples [editor’s note].

(2) A show held at the Centro Colombo Americano in Barranquilla in 1978.

(3) A show held at the Galería Partes in Medellín in 1979.

(4) Twenty-nine glass cubes were gathered together and left uncovered to the elements for twenty-nine days in the industrial area of Yumbo, a city north of Cali. On the 2nd of February the first cube was covered. After that, one was covered every twenty-four hours until the last was covered March 2nd. Part of the pollution that the wind carries to Cali during the course of a month remained in the cubes.


Editor’s note: According to Alvaro Barrios, the curator of the exhibit, Art for the Eighties was complemented in the MAMM of Medellín by the following artists: Miguel Angel Rojas, Jonier Marín, Juan Camilo Uribe, Ronny Vayda.

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