The Argentine artist Juan Carlos Romero (1930-2017) brought together in his 87 years of life some 2,000 political posters, the largest collection in the country. Also brochures, flyers, artists' books and publications that make up a huge file, equivalent to four rooms. The set gives an account of the collective memory of Argentina and of its recent cultural, political and union history. After his death, almost two years ago, a judicial litigation began between the heirs that ended with the sale of the so-called Archive of artists Juan Carlos Romero to a foreign foundation at the end of 2018. Academic and artistic institutions fight to prevent the archive from leaving the country and demand that its public access be guaranteed.
"There is no other similar public or private archive containing equal collections, which is tremendously relevant not only for the art world, but for many other approaches that intersect symbolic practices, cultural history and political history," says Ana Longoni, a member of the Red Conceptualismos del Sur (RedCSur) and director of public activities at the Reina Sofía Museum. From RedCSur, an artistic research platform, they sent a letter to the Argentine Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to the Ministry of Justice, to Culture and to the General Archive of the Nation, among others, in which they denounce that the sale abroad of the archive "privatizes it and subtracts from public access. " So far they have not received an answer.
The gallerist who made the sale, Ricardo Ocampo, cites confidentiality reasons to avoid responding who bought it, for how much and if the material has left Argentina or remains in the country. "The entire acquisition process was private, and met the necessary legal requirements," Ocampo responds by mail. "Having evaluated the different proposals, their heirs decided that the best destination was the institution that finally acquired it.They took into account in the first place the express wish of Juan Carlos that the file would be part of the collection of an international institution. The key was for this institution to ensure the conservation, research and promotion of the archive and the figure of Juan Carlos, and the will of Romero himself was fulfilled, "he adds.
"Beyond the legality of the sale, there is a political and ethical dimension that Romero encouraged throughout his life that comes into clear contradiction," says Longoni. "The file had to stay in Argentina, in Buenos Aires, it was a request from him because it was important for him to be accessible," agrees Diana Wechsler, director of the Department of Art and Culture of the National University Tres de Febrero (Untref) . Both have known the artist for decades and participated in the Civil Association of Artists File Juan Carlos Romero, in charge of the cataloging and digitization of the material. "In 2011 we bought the property where we moved the file to catalog and digitize it. Much progress was made in the best known, which is the political graphic file. It is significant because there is no other equal, but it is 5%, "says Longoni.
The oldest poster in the collection, dated in 1930, was printed by Falangists from Argentina. On a Spanish flag in the background and a small Argentine flag at one end, the Falangist symbol of yoke and arrows is drawn in the center. There are other posters of international character, among them, several in defense of the Cuban revolution, of Palestine and Nicaragua, but the highlight is the posters of historical Peronism. "Social justice" can be read on a 1952 poster with the image of Juan Domingo Perón. "I will return alive or dead to fight in front of my people (Eva Perón). Present my general", is written on a poster of the Justicialist Party of 1973. In another of the following year there is an image of María Estela Martínez inside the silhouette of Perón and a brief order: "Let's follow it". The last woman of the general succeeded him in the Argentine Presidency on July 1, 1974 after his death.
Romero ripped off some of those street wall posters and gave them shelter in his house. Others took them out of organized events after the return of democracy, brought them from their travels or found them rummaging through old bookstores. His friends remember that he never came home empty-handed. He always returned from his walks around the Plaza del Congreso with a brochure or any other material to collect.
"He was a multiple man, an indefatigable archivist, a union and political activist, a great teacher, an inexhaustible curious," Longoni describes. "He fed his archive as a way to fuel his artistic practice, his archive was a living organism and he responded to his totally random cataloging modes, he could be talking, drinking mates, and getting into the back of his house and emerging with a piece of paper that he had agreed on and that he wanted me to see, "he recalls.
This researcher believes that, given the size of the file, it should not have moved from the country or, at least, not in its entirety. "We are worried because there is a clear danger of dispersion," he stresses. Argentina puts many obstacles to the export of works of art, but not to materials such as those treasured by Romero. "There is no archival law that protects these situations and protects them," laments Wechsler. Even so, the Untref has communicated with the Treasury and Interpol before the suspicion that there could be irregularities in the sale and export of the material, an accusation that Ocampo denies.
Despite the controversy generated, neither the artist's children nor the Ministry of Culture have spoken out and the fate of the collection remains mired in mystery. "We only know that it is a foreign foundation, but since we do not know which one we can not start negotiating, we would suggest that you think about the possibility of a local institutionalization because it is a very significant archive of Argentina's recent history," concludes Longoni.