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From America
P A R K E T T,
A M E R I C A , T H E O T H E R F R O M E U R O P E , F L O AT O U T T O A N I N T E R E S T E D
(Within the Museum)
The negative truth contained by modern art
such as Venezuela. By contrast, contes-
has always been a justified negation of the
tation is seemingly even more problem-
society that surrounded it.
atic when evoked in highly developed
– Guy Debord, “Situationists and the
societies where anti-art’s negativity is
New Forms of Action in Politics or Art”
tautologically equivalent to capitalism’s
negativity. As Tom McDonough has
Guy Debord’s idea of the avant-garde
observed, the type of contestation pro-
as contestation and his confidence in
moted by Debord and the members of
this means of “recuperating” the politi-
Situationist International (SI) in the
cal potential of art through dissidence
early 1960s overlooked the fact that
seems to be challenged when contesta-
avant-garde art’s negative force eventu-
tion is encapsulated by the space of the
ally became the radical flux that kept
the cycle of production and consump-
museum in less developed societies
Los Disidentes, No 1, 1950, cover /
G A B R I E L A R A N G E L is curator and
tion running in late capitalism.1)
Thus, long before Venezuela be-
critic of contemporary art. She is director
came the latest model for recovering
of visual arts at the Americas Society.
the ethos of revolutionary struggles
P A R K E T T 7 9 2 0 07
after the downfall of socialism, two
art occurred, in particular, in a country
Although Los Disidentes was produced
forms of dissidence were tested in dif-
in which the patriarchal nineteenth-
far away from its primary cultural
ferent historical moments through the
century Enlightenment figure SimГіn
context, both the content and focus
artistic avant-garde. Notably, Pamela
BolГ­var is dominant and still continues
of the editorial line were strictly limit-
Lee commented on her interest in the
to shape all forms of public conscious-
ed to topics related to the arts in
World Social Forum meeting that took
ness. Accordingly, when the Venezue-
Venezuela. Paradoxically, the periodi-
place in Caracas on January 24, 2006:
lan avant-garde group Los Disidentes
cal’s provocative name Los Disidentes
I attended the meeting for various inter-
(The Dissidents) launched a magazine
was followed by a colophon that indi-
mingled reasons: political sympathies; a
in March 1950, its members seemed
cated its editors’ regional awareness
desire to witness a leftist turn in South
overly concerned about the precarious
and scope of ambition: to circulate in
American politics (the rise of ChГЎvez in
situation of the arts in an underdevel-
Latin America. However, with produc-
Venezuela, the election of Evo Morales in
oped country rapidly changing as a
tion restricted entirely to No. 1 rue
Bolivia); and a critical engagement with
result of an economic boom. It is not
TrГ©taigne, the magazine hardly circu-
the visual dimension of the event’s worldly
accidental that the first issue of the
lated beyond a few Venezuelan Г©migrГ©s
magazine featured a polemical article,
living in France and, typically, served
On one hand, in the 1950s a group
“Bolívar, Nosotros, Ahora” (Bolívar,
the instrumental purpose of promot-
of young artists declared their dissi-
Ourselves, Now), by J.R. Guillent PГ©-
ing the ideas and prestige of its mem-
dence as a strategy for consolidating a
rez, which embodies what Luis Castro
bers, including many modern figures
local project of modernization that
Leiva aptly identified as a “historical
from Brazil and Argentina who were
entailed a radical transformation of art
tension” that equates the South Ameri-
also living in Paris.
institutions. On the other, in 1962 an
can emancipator’s thinking with conthinking 4)
In order to understand the group’s
urban guerrilla faction commanded by
temporary processes of
urgency to operate from abroad, it will
students robbed five modernist paint-
functions as a national doctrine textu-
be useful to be aware of the dynamics
ings, on loan from French museums to
ally sanctioned.5)
of Venezuelan politics since the 1930s.
the Museum of Fine Arts of Caracas
(Museo de Bellas Artes), in order to
trade them for political prisoners, voicing their anti-bourgeois dissidence to
the world. Encouraged by the originality of this action, Guy Debord praised
the Venezuelan students’ activism for
resolving the dichotomy between art
and life, theory and action, and thus
not only materializing the aspirations
of “the highest moments of revolutionary uprising in the last century [but
going] even further.” 3)
Although these events were not
directly interconnected, both were
framed by and located at the Museum
of Fine Arts of Caracas, the oldest and
at the time the only Venezuelan institution dedicated to the arts. Curiously,
the shift from dissidence as a belligerent artistic tactic to dissidence as a
form of political action that involves
Los Disidentes, No 3, 1950, cover / Umschlag.
The death of Juan Vicente GГіmez in
1936, a brutal caudillo who ruled
Venezuela for nearly 30 years, led to
rapid demographic growth and concomitant urban development: the first
symptoms of a brisk process of modernization after years of isolation and
political repression. The completion
by architect Carlos RaГєl Villanueva of a
neo-classical building in 1938 to house
the Museo de Bellas Artes aroused
many expectations of change in the
generation of young artists who were
later associated with Los Disidentes. A
number of political parties and organizations such as trade unions were
founded during the brief post-dictatorship period, under the influence of
social movements informed by the
political landscape of Europe (i.e.
Miguel Ar royo modeling a sculpture with Har r y Abend at the Galia Worshop, Univer-
socialism and Christian Democracy).
sidad Central de Venezuela, Caracas / Miguel Ar royo und Har r y Abend modelierend,
Nonetheless, it took more than a
Galia-Workshop, Zentral-Universität von Venezuela, Caracas.
decade to implement substantial trans-
formations in a rural, de facto feudal
society that suddenly developed into
a rich modern nation-state on the
verge of industrialization and the related formation of an articulate civil
society. Due to the lack of infrastruc-
PerГЎn Erminy, and J.R. Guillent PГ©rez,
tive geometric modality via Mondrian.
ture and resources, young artists from
to name a few. Utilizing an abrasive
And perhaps this fact led Los Disidentes
the incipient middle class that began to
jargon inspired by the pre-war avant-
to consider an institutional model for a
emerge with new oil wealth traveled to
gardes, the editorial statement of the
modern Venezuela shaped from the
Europe, especially to France, seeking a
magazine’s first issue criticized both
mythical perspective of postwar Paris,
better education. New art salons made
the precarious art institutions and the
the waning cultural capital of Europe,
possible a number of private grants
local cultural agents. The virulent tone
and even tied to the ideas of SimГіn
and fellowships that allowed artists to
was also in tune with the need to set up
BolГ­var, who became an icon of region-
support their studies abroad.
a radical programmatic platform for
al liberation struggles and of the Marx-
The first issue of Los Disidentes fea-
the inception of abstract art as a
ist political dissidents of the 1960s. In
tured on its cover the names of many
universalist vector linked to cultural
the essay “Bolívar, Ourselves, Now,”
young artists and critics who sub-
development and progress. Venezue-
Guillent Pérez, the group’s intellectual
sequently became prominent in the
lan artists did not have the same oppor-
spokesman, examined the notion of
Venezuelan arts scene and, to some
tunity to avail themselves of a primary
colonization as a driving cultural force
extent, became known in Latin Ameri-
source, such as Torres GarcГ­a, as
and an attribute that determined pres-
can international modernist circuits:
Argentine artists did; their project was
ent-day relations between Latin Ameri-
Alejandro Otero, Mateo Manaure, Car-
to introduce modernist art through
ca and the West. For Pérez, Bolívar’s
los GonzГЎlez Bogen, Miguel Arroyo,
abstraction, in particular a non-figura-
thinking was mystified by his national
Ger t Leufer t and Miguel Ar royo in front of an emblem
that was par t of the exhibition “Visibilia,” Museum of Fine
Ar ts, Caracas, 1966 / Ger t Leufer t und Miguel Ar royo
vor dem Emblem, das Teil der Ausstellung “Visibilia” war,
Museum der schönen Künste, Caracas, 1966.
veneration, which overlooked a more
same architect who designed the Mu-
tions and private collections. At the
complex colonial dimension. “Bolívar’s
seum of Fine Arts of Caracas, invited
time Miguel Arroyo, a former member
usefulness for us today may be found,
a number of prestigious avant-garde
of Los Disidentes who also collaborated
in principle, in his rebellion against
members to collaborate with local
in the Project of the Integration of the
what is colonial. We should imitate
artists in an enterprise that was called
Arts, was the museum director and the
him … To do so, we may need to create
into question internationally as it was
exhibition’s organizer. A few weeks
a BolГ­var for the arts, a BolГ­var for
after the opening, on January 16, 1963
thought, a Bolívar for economics.”6)
regime.7) In spite of these objections,
a group of young political dissidents,
Although Los Disidentes was short-
the project legitimized abstract art with
students from the Universidad Central
lived (only five issues all published in
works of such renowned artists as Hans
de Venezuela, broke into the museum.
1950), its editorial strategy proved suc-
Arp, Alexander Calder, Fernand LГ©ger,
According to Miguel Arroyo’s report:
cessful. Shortly after it went under, the
Naum Gabo, Antoine Pevsner, Sophie
artists and critics affiliated with the
Taeuber-Arp, and Victor Vasarely.
…at 3:15 pm approximately fifteen
individuals, including two women, broke
magazine returned to Venezuela and
A decade later, on December 21,
into the museum armed with heavy weapons
participated in the Project of the In-
1962, President RГіmulo Betancourt
and pistols … The outlaws asked the stu-
tegration of the Arts at the Central
opened the exhibition “A Hundred
dents and general public attending the
University of Venezuela, an influential
Years of Painting in France” at the
exhibition to stay inside the galleries, and
state commission in which public art
Museum of Fine Arts in Caracas, fea-
after completing an operation that lasted
was integrated with modern structural
turing more than fifty masterpieces
exactly fifteen minutes, they took the follow-
design. Carlos RaГєl Villanueva, the
from important French state institu-
ing paintings: THE BATHERS by CГ©zanne,
with a provocative manifesto. The Ven-
chase of a portrait by CГ©zanne for
A COPPER VASE by Vincent van Gogh,
ezuelan newspaper El Nacional pub-
the museum, making the dichotomy
lished the entire document signed by
between social and political issues and
WITH PEARS by Georges Braque.8)
the Armed Forces for National Libera-
the autonomy of art all the more evi-
In spite of the spectacular media
tion, informing the public and the
dent. Guy Debord was probably right in
impact of the robbery in both local and
French authorities of the plight of
his belief that “everything that the
French newspapers, France’s Minister
political prisoners under the rule of a
world offers us today as positive can
of Culture AndrГ© Malraux and Presi-
repressive government. The document
only serve to recharge limitlessly the
dent Charles de Gaulle supported the
also predicted the return of Bolivarian
negativity of the currently sanctioned
Venezuelan social-democratic govern-
thinking and the emancipation of the
forms of expression,”10) but what hap-
ment by keeping the exhibition open
country by the Venezuelan Armed
pens when the avant-garde appears in a
to the public until further notice. An
Forces for National Liberation. As
pre-capitalist society?
urban cell of the Communist Party
might be anticipated, it was well
under the nom de guerre of Fuerzas
received at the Parisian left bank by the
Situationists since it conveyed a power-
(Armed Forces for National Libera-
tion) issued a message in which they
between human life (political prison-
explained the political nature of the
ers) and artworks (modernist paint-
robbery and assured that the paintings
ings). Guy Debord described the myth-
were unharmed. During those years,
ical robbery:
the Cuban revolutionary experiment
The forces of order recaptured the paint-
was at the height of its prestige, gaining
ings after a gun battle with Winston
strong sympathies in the entire re-
Bermudes, Luis Monselve, and Gladys Tro-
gion, while Betancourt’s administration
conis. A few days later, some other comrades
employed systematic repression against
threw two bombs at the police van trans-
the guerrilla movement, outlawing the
porting the recovered paintings. Unfortu-
Communist Party and other radical left
nately, they did not succeed in destroying it.
organizations, including the cell that
This is clearly an exemplary way to treat the
organized the robbery. Given that the
art from the past, to bring it back into play
Communist party was instrumental in
for what really matters in life. Since the
ending Pérez Jiménez’ dictatorial re-
deaths of Gauguin (�I tried to establish the
gime in 1958, the prohibition created
right to dare everything’) and van Gogh,
their work, recuperated by their enemies, has
intelligentsia and the government.
Remarkably, a number of important
Venezuelan artists and critics from
probably never received from the cultural
world an homage so true to their spirit as
the act of these Venezuelans.9)
diverse ideological tendencies, includ-
There is a bittersweet irony in the
ing former members of Los Disidentes,
originality of the robbery of five mas-
agreed on the art historical expertise
terpieces undertaken by political dissi-
of the thieves, who had selected the
dents in the same museum that had
best pieces in the exhibition. The
been targeted, a decade earlier, by
rocambolesque episode of the robbery
institutional dissidents to “recuperate”
concluded with the capture of three
it as a space for modernization. More-
individuals by the police when they
over, in 1959 one of those dissidents,
were driving to return the art works to
Alejandro Otero, spurred a nationwide
writer Arturo Uslar Pietri’s residence
polemic regarding the possible pur189
1) Tom McDonough, “Ideology and the
Situationist Utopia” (introduction), in
Tom McDonough (ed.), Guy Debord and the
Situationist International, Texts and Documents (Cambridge/London: MIT Press,
2002), pp. IX–XX .
2) Pamela M. Lee, “The Revolution Must
Be Televised,” Artforum International (April
2006), pp. 109 and 112.
3) Guy Debord, “Situationists and the New
Forms of Action in Politics or Art,” in Tom
McDonough (ed.), Guy Debord and the Situationist International, Texts and Documents
(Cambridge/London: MIT Press, 2002),
p. 162.
4) Luis Castro Leiva, “De la Patria Boba a
la Teología Bolivariana,” in Obras Completas (Fundación Polar, 2005). Castro Leiva
was a professor at the University of Chicago who devoted his research to a study of
the Bolivarian ideology and its secular religion.
5) Ibid., p. 40. For Castro Leiva, this
feature is synthesized in three central
propositions: 1) whatever BolГ­var thought
should and must be carried out; 2) all that
is to be done (politically and morally) may
be found within Bolívar’s ideas; and 3) we
should be devoted and responsible to him
6) J.R. Guillent Pérez, “Bolívar, Nosotros,
Hoy,” in Los Disidentes No.1, 1950, p. 15.
All translations are mine.
7) The president, General Marcos PГ©rez
JimГ©nez, was part of the military junta that
took over the government in 1948 with a
coup d’état and ruled the country until
8) Miguel Arroyo, letter published in El
Nacional, January 17, 1963, p. 35.
9) Debord, op. cit., p. 161.
10) Debord, op. cit., p. 165.
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