21 October 2004

Avant Garde

David Alfaro Siquieros, in a lecture delivered at the Museum of Fine Art, Caracas, Venezuela, January 11, 1960:

“Of late the Mexican government, under pressure from ourselves, has been obliged to censure the use which the Organisation of American States, with its official seat in Washington, has made of the money which it receives from the countries of America it has used these funds to propagate the abstract trends in art and to combat the public art of the Mexican art movement. What right has it to do this? If it were to use its money to propagate realist art, the Abstract painters would have full rights to complain. The OAS has no right to interfere in our aesthetic affairs, or in our national politics. It is very significant that at this time no figurative artist of the social revolutionary trend has been invited to exhibit his works in the United States. Is it not extraordinary that the Museum of Modern Art in New York has seen fit to eliminate these painters from their publications? It is obvious that imperialism prefers an art which is deaf and dumb, an art which says nothing, hears nothing, and even sees nothing. But this does not mean that we deny the right of any painter to experiment in any way he likes. He has the right to do this and the right to defend his principles and his point of view in public; but he does not have the right to help the forces of reaction to drown out the voices of those of us who do want to say something with out painting, or to join those forces in shutting our mouths by taking away our liberties. What are we fighting for at this present time? Are the abstract artists, the non-figurative artists, fighting for the freedom of expression? It is we, the figurative artists who have ideological links with our people, who are fighting for this.”

Found in Art and Revolution, David Alfaro Siquieros (Lawrence and Wishart: London, 1975.) Translated by Sylvia Calles.

I knew the CIA had touted abstract art over social realism in the U.S. and Europe, but I didn’t know the OAS was involved.

Update: Reader Pilar notes that Siquieros was jailed after delivering this speech. He spent four years in a prison in Lecumberri. It was his longest sentence and also his last.

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