Beatriz Duque de Vallejo:: What was the process for the acquisition of Master Botero's work for the Museum of Antioquía like?|
Pilar Velilla: To put it in very few words, in the years '76 and '77 the Museum of Antioquía received the first donation by Botero, which was, firstly, The Exvote, a piece that we currently have in the Pedrito Botero room. Then the Pedrito Botero room acquired 17 of his paintings. Once Botero had donated the collection, he made a proposal: If the name of the Museum was changed to Museum of Antioquía and a new room was adapted, he would make a sculpture donation. In those times, Botero was already well known as a sculptor. At that time, a long, seven-year process to change the Museum's name started, and in 1984 a new room was opened and the donation of fifteen sculptures took place. During the opening of this room, the Master promised that if the Museum really grew, he would like to bequeath all his works to Medellín, not only those by foreign artists which he collected throughout his life, but a significant representation of his own artistic works. Twelve years went by, and although the topic was sometimes mentioned, nobody put it into practice.
When I was appointed Director of the Museum in 1997, I started thinking about Botero's donation. I called him, explained that we intended to expand, and asked him whether his offer was still valid. He did not hesitate for one second, did not ask any questions, and did not suggest any conditions. By this I mean that with Botero's ever-present generosity he said at once, "If I go and give you three more collections, drawings, paintings and sculptures, I'll give you a million dollars as well." Faced with this proposal of donation from a countryman I started to work so that the State would make an equally important Museum. So, when we started considering the architectural renewal of the Museum, we thought about the building in which we now are. But the building was virtually hidden among some other buildings which had been constructed and which had completely obscured the majestic facade. So, we thought of demolishing half a block in order to open the Museum's facade. When Botero knew of our intentions, he said that if a plaza was to be built there, he would put ten sculptures in it, which finally became twenty-three. In short, this is the way in which the works came to us.
B.V.: Please tell us about the importance of Botero for the city, for Colombia, and for the Museum.
P.V.: There exist several points of view. Botero is the most important artist that the history of Colombian art has known, the best known. If we compare his work with others, there are lots of very important artists in this country, but none of them so international or so universally known as Botero. One may talk about him in China, Russia, in Kuwait... he is known everywhere. No other Colombian artist has reached such levels of fame. If we consider his work's worth, it is important for his own country, especially the city of his birth to have a significant show of his works. It would be a waste not to have it. As a registered trademark (between inverted commas), and due to his high position, it is very useful for the city to use it, since we have a city that has unfortunately been marked with a fame we earned, although all the inhabitants of Antioquía are not what the rest of the world believes us to be, by being known as the most violent city in the planet and the birthplace of drug dealing. For the first time in many years, Medellín has appeared in the international press in an impressive way. To mention one example, it is not every day that there appear two pages about Medellín in The New York Times, and they appeared due to this Museum. It has appeared in all the most important newspapers, magazines, and television programs with cheerful news. Only this fact, if we make a comparison from the financial point of view the Mayor's Office of Medellín is so worried about, had we proposed a campaign to help improve the city's image, it would have cost many more millions that those spent in building a plaza and a Museum. This is the external significant aspect. The inner one: what do Colombians need? Some reason to feel proud, something which awakes the sense of belonging, roots; so we don't feel worthless, to believe that it is not worthwhile to kill each other for a simple argument, that discussing issues is always better than death... This is the inner point of view, even though some people have probably been unable to understand why some works of art are useful to a city. What we are trying to prove is the way in which this area, which only one year ago was a place where all the worst social pathologies of a country such as ours, left to its own devices, took place, is now a place where we live peacefully with this reality, without having to expel the same.