In 2013, the National Salon of Artists – the longest-running and possibly the best-known showcase for contemporary art in Colombia – celebrates its 43th edition.
Between September 6th and November 3rd , Medellín will host the 43rd “Salón Nacional de Artistas” (43 SNA), the city which the Wall Street Journal chose as the most innovative in the world in 2013. This was on the initiative of the Colombian Ministry of Culture, which on this occasion works in alliance with the Secretary of Civic Culture of the Mayoralty of Medellín.
The first edition of the Salon was held in 1940, and since then the idea behind the show has gone through several important changes. In its new version, the name carries the prefix (Inter), signaling the Salon’s integration with the international art scene and continuing a development started by its two previous versions. The unchanged name might have manifested a certain resistance to an insistent and clamorous reality where all solidity tends to dissolve; we proposed the change as an acknowledgement of the necessity to look for other readings, and to strengthen the dialogue and connections between local, national and international contexts.
The 43 (Inter) National Salon of Artists will link and interweave two key concepts. In general terms, one aspect of the exhibition is resumed in the verb SABER, which means knowledge or to know, that is, the revision of the canon from the point of view of the traditional bodies of knowledge, as expressed in their narratives of origins and rootedness. Metaphorically speaking, “SABER” highlights the importance of a specific context: the traditions pertaining to a certain territory and the knowledge which has been developed there, in all their contingency. It refers to walking with a firm stride, it is the compass for survival.
But parallel to this knowledge, however, there is DESCONOCER (not to know, to be unaware of, to unlearn), the second conceptual approach of the exhibition. Here we refer to works which acknowledge the suspension of univocal meanings and enable us to open ourselves up to the doubt, ambiguity or uncertainty which afford the promise of the new. It is a mental state which allows for the possibility of escape and navigating towards other futures, new notions of the present and the reinvention of the past. The proliferation of paths, the refusal to get stuck in a specific place and tradition, likewise serve to impel us forward, to accept the expansion that is needed to undertake a directionless journey, so that we may explore the immense ocean, jungle or sidereal space of the unknown.
The concepts of Knowledge and Unawareness are apparently contradictory but they will be joined at the Salon in order to create, as in an oxymoron (a figure of speech which combines contradictory terms), a new meaning. In short, throughout the exhibition, some works will operate within the concept of SABER and others within that of DESCONOCER and there will be a third category which, like a shaman, will reconcile the dichotomy between what we know and what we do not know through vectors, routes, tensors and other metaphors of mediation.
The 43rd (inter) National Salon of Artists will be made up of three collective exhibitions and several projects by individual artists, some of which will be commissioned by the Salon. In this manner, it will bring together both, works that already exist and ones specifically made for it. Approximately 100 Colombian and foreign artists will take part and it will take place in three venues in the city of Medellín simultaneously.
Its academic and pedagogical component will seek to make the works and the artists accessible to the public, include other ways of looking at and experiencing art and enable people of all ages and walks of life, to have a direct experience of all that which we know as contemporary art. To achieve this, the public will have the opportunity to stroll through the exhibition halls in the company of guides or mediators who will help them to connect themselves with the spirit of art.
At the same time, however, in SABER DESCONOCER, we would like the public to understand that it is not necessary to attend thousands of workshops and training schools to come close to art. We want to invite people to have the opportunity to explore the unknown and leave their fears and reserves behind when they go past the doors of the three venues of the exhibition, and dare to explore those spaces which may enrich their vision of the world.
In the venues of the Salon there will be opportunities to cross and be crossed by artworks and ideas; by expressions, traditional and less traditional, which contemplate things that we know, ones we do not know and the mysterious membranes which separate some things from others. The Salon invites us to be emancipated spectators, free to draw our own conclusions, come up with theories or no theories at all, think or not think, give way to emotion or remain distant towards that which surrounds us. That is all the Salon will ask of us: to have a free and open-minded attitude to art, things and their use.
Brief history of the National Salon
1940s – 1960s
In October 1940, 73 years ago, Jorge Eliécer Gaitán, the Colombian Minister of Education, and Eduardo Santos, President of Colombia, inaugurated the first annual exhibition of Colombian artists, at the National Library in Bogotá.
In the opening speech, Gaitán mentioned two important roles the newly born event would have. The first, to serve as a place where the public could “ultimately decide, whether or not there is a national art.” Second, to be a center that would train artists to “judge and assess the art of others, with a crystal-clear impartiality and without the prejudices of schools or trends.”
The Salon was thus conceived of as a dual space in which the works would be a kind of hinge. They would make the public think about whether there was an authentically Colombian art or not, and stimulate the artists themselves to judge the quality of art with more rigor.
The Annual Salon consolidated two previous attempts to mount an exhibition that would display the whole range of Colombian art. The first was a one-time national exhibition held in 1886 and the second, the Salon of Colombian Artists, held in 1931, exbted155 works by 73 artists, among them 16 women. “The jurors were poets, ambassadors and politicians,” the renowned Colombian artist Beatriz González points out. “Few knew about art. Painting prevailed at that time.” Jaime Cerón, Director of the Visual Arts Section at the Ministry of Culture, remarks that the Salon showed “a small world in which only the works of local artists were exhibited,” even though it was aware of the need to create art which artists throughout the country could identify with.
During the 1940´s, the venue of the Salon was the Biblioteca Nacional (National Library) in Bogotá, and a prize was awarded at each event. Among the winners at that time were Ignacio Gómez Jaramillo, Carlos Correa and Alberto Acuña, painters of an academic bent who were gradually displaced by a generational change that climaxed in 1952, with the consolidation of artists inspired by modern art and native cultures.
In the 1950´s and 60´s the venue shifted to the Museo Nacional (National Museum), but the Salon was suspended during the dictatorship of General Rojas Pinilla (1953-1957). However, Colombian art continued to flourish in commercial galleries like the Buchholz, El Callejón and the Galería Central.
During the 1960´s, in response to the new trends in Colombian art, the Salons began to show modern expressions, expanding its coverage beyond painting and sculpture, and including categories like drawings, prints and ceramics. Another key development was the beginning of professional art criticism in Colombia, with pioneering critics like Marta Traba, Walter Engel and Casimiro Eiger, and specialized publications, like Prisma (1957) and Plástica (1956-1960).
Some of the artists who showed at the Salons then began to attain recognition on both a national and international level. Among those who participated and/or won awards, there were figures now widely known, such as Eduardo Ramírez Villamizar, Fernando Botero, Alejandro Obregón, Edgar Negret, Enrique Grau, Norman Mejía, Beatriz González, Pedro Alcántara Herrán, Álvaro Barrios, Luis Caballero, Santiago Cárdenas, FelizaBursztyn and Carlos Rojas, among others. Beatriz González admits that she was not the same after winning a special second prize, for painting, at the 17th National Salon in 1965. A year later, the Salon moved to yet another venue, the Luis Ángel Arango Library in Bogotá.
1970s – 1990s
In 1970, at the 21st edition of the National Salon, the Venezuelan juror Juan Calzadilla highlighted the crisis the event was going through by remarking, “I´m a spectator at a funeral.” He was right in the sense that many artists who had been prominent in the previous two decades no longer submitted their works. The organizers then decided to hold the Salon every two years and stop awarding prizes.
In 1976, in response to this crisis, Regional Salons were created in order to decentralize the event and broaden the participation of artists. This was the decade of conceptual art and hyperrealism, and photographs were awarded a prize for the first time. Among the now well known artists who participated in the Salons of this decade we find Beatriz González, Alfonso Quijano, Bernardo Salcedo, Antonio Caro, María de la Paz Jaramillo, Clemencia Lucena, Juan Antonio Roda, Álvaro Barrios, Santiago Cárdenas, Antonio Caro, Juan Camilo Uribe, Fernell Franco, El Sindicato group and Alicia Barney.
In a delayed reaction to Calzadilla´s harsh judgment, the Salons were suspended between 1980 and 1985 in order to rethink their purpose. Although one was held in Bogotá in 1985, it was during this decade that the Salon began to visit different parts of the country. The 1987 edition was held at the Olaya Herrera airport in Medellín, and in 1989, in Cartagena, to commemorate its 50th anniversary. In 1990 the Salon returned to Bogotá, and the venue was the international trade fairs site, Corferias. 357 artists participated, the most in the history of the event, and the attendance of the public correspondingly grew.
During this decade the Salon witnessed the emergence of a new generation of artists, such as Nadín Ospina, María Teresa Hincapié, Luis Fernando Roldán, Wilson Díaz, Maria Fernanda Cardoso, Rodrigo Facundo, Juan Fernando Herrán, and José Alejandro Restrepo. The art of this period was characterized by, among other trends, the use of new media technologies and the use of photography to document socio-artistic practices.
The New Century
With the advent of the 21st century, the format of the large-scale, all-embracing art exhibition either declined or went through major organizational and conceptual changes. Events like the Salon, which had been intended to represent the art of a whole country (“the thermometer of Colombian art,” in the words of Marta Traba), gave way to smaller ones, with more limited themes and specific curatorial aims. The notion of the Salon as a “thermometer” of Colombian art was discarded, partly in response to new exhibition philosophies on a world level, and partly in response to practical difficulties (mounting an exhibition at Corferias proved to be too expensive, for example).
Thus, the Salon changed its format. The jury which had previously selected artists was replaced by a curatorial committee and specific conceptual themes dictated the choice of the works. In the year 2000, the Pentagon Project arose, which had four aspects: art works, research, the consolidation of exhibitions and the dissemination of contemporary art in Colombia. An exhibition entitled Materialismo y Espacios [Materialism and Spaces] was shown at museums in Bogotá, Cali and Medellín, and a selection of performance art, Actos de Fabulación [Acts of Fantasizing], was held in several locations in Bogotá.
The fortieth version, held in 2004, was based on the research of the curators, who chose the featured artists. There were 14 exhibits, which toured 17 departmental capitals before reaching Bogotá. The curators were chosen by the Regional Visual Arts Committees, made up of representatives of cultural and academic institutions from seven regions of Colombia: the Central, Eastern, Southern, Pacific, Orinoco, Caribbean and Central Western.
The 41st National Salon, held in Cali and entitled “Urgent!”, was curated by Victoria Noorthoorn, Óscar Muñoz, Bernardo Ortiz, José Horacio Martínez and Wilson Díaz. It was a big event, nourished by two streams: works from the 12 Regional Salons of the previous year, and by Colombian and foreign guest artists. Due to the large number of works, the show was subdivided into three exhibitions (Imagen en cuestión [Picture in question], Presentación y representación [Presentation and Representation], and Participación y poética [Participation and Poetics]), three urgent concerns for art dealt with in different ways by Colombian and foreign artists.
The Salon also included the 7th edition of the Cali Performance Festival, organized by Helena Productions, an independent art collective; an educational and artistic program organized by the city´s faculties of art; and side events like concerts, lectures, panel discussions and screenings of videos.
The following Salon of National Artists, number 42, was entitled Independientemente [Independently] and held in different venues on the Caribbean Coast of Colombia: among them, Cartagena, Barranquilla and Santa Marta. The idea of the curatorial team was to highlight the regional characteristics of the Caribbean and towards this aim, regional curators chose artists to conduct workshops in different communities there. One of its features was entitled El Encuentro de Lugares [Encounter of Places], a weeklong discussion of art in Cartagena.
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