Caracas: Art on the Edge|
In a now classic text on the recent history of Venezuelan art, published in 1974, art critic Marta Traba (1923-1983) stated her difficulty in understanding the focus on progressive, cosmopolitan thought that pervaded Caracas at that time. This focus viewed the most unlikely situations as being perfectly compatible, part and parcel of the inevitable contradictions of development. Among others, Traba pointed out the coexistence of "a very few galleries devoted to conceptual art with countless galleries dealing in the 'retail' sale of still lifes, and araguaney, apamate (both typically Venezuelan plant species) and Avila (a hill overlooking Caracas) landscapes" (1).
We should add that it was also in the seventies that a network of public-sector institutions for the promotion of art began taking shape. The basic establishment of these facilities was to conclude twenty years later, thus adding in a relatively short time, a group of official museum-type institutions to the listing of commercial galleries, the odd alternative or privately-funded exhibition gallery, and the few museums that featured art work in their collections --such as the Museum of Colonial Art, the Arturo Michelena Museum and the longstanding Museum of Fine Arts. These included the Museum of Contemporary Art, subsequently renamed the Museum of Contemporary Art of Caracas and a little thereafter the Sofía Imber Museum of Contemporary Art of Caracas, founded in 1974; the National Art Gallery, established in 1976; the La Rinconada Art Museum - reopened in 1990 as the Alejandro Otero Visual Arts Museum and subsequently known as the Alejandro Otero Museum-- followed in 1985. 1993 saw the opening of the Museum of the West, renamed the Jacobo Borges Museum in 1995, and 1997 the Carlos Cruz Diez Print and Design Museum (2). By the end of the last century, due to the proliferation of public and private galleries, Caracas had an infrastructure for the promotion of art that could be deemed adequate in several respects.
Following a mix of efforts characterized by professionalization and non-critical indulgences, hesitation, confusion and some good choices during its development, the system of public-sector institutions established preferential and very active relations with Venezuela's artistic scene, which to-date has substantially supported its exhibition programming. The government thus began to play a markedly hegemonic role in disseminating Venezuelan art throughout the country, and particularly in the capital.
However, an unprecedented development in Caracas' cultural scene has begun taking shape during this decade: a marked increase in the number of exhibition spaces that are encouraging a commitment to the country's most ambitious art practices. In accomplishing that aim these spaces are either seeking to renew obsolete approaches to art prevalent in the city's commercial galleries - within the confines of an art market that to date remains, with few exceptions eminently conservative-- or to keep a good distance from the State's institutionalized promotional models. Rather, it should be said that something is happening in Caracas' cultural scene as a whole, given the development of various initiatives to promote art and literature outside the framework of the State and of traditional entrepreneurial activity.