The Prado shows how European taste influenced the art of the colonies

The Prado shows how European taste influenced the art of the colonies

Among the historical absences of the Prado Museum – in addition to the gender perspective in its story and the presence of women artists – is the art created in America during three centuries of the viceroyalty. There is no trace in the permanent room, there was no record in temporary exhibitions. America was another of the outstanding invisibilities of the most important cultural institution in Spain, despite the fact that The meadow He is heir to the old artistic collection of the monarchy, which reflects the territories owned by the crown: Spain, Flanders, Italy and America. The absence of the latter in the rooms of the center is a capital fault considering that it was the silver from there that sustained the expenses of the monarchy here, including those destined to the artistic collections admired today.

In theory today the Prado mitigates this deficit with the opening of the exhibition Tornaviaje. Ibero-American Art in Spain, his biggest bet for 2021. The thesis of the temporary exhibition, curated by Rafael López Guzmán, professor at the University of Granada, is that in the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in Spain lived with more artistic objects of American origin than of Flemish or Italian origin. The director of the Prado, Miguel Falomir, is surprised by “a reality that is largely ignored” by the Spanish public, despite the fact that it is the institution headed by one of those responsible for feeding this knowledge gap. Falomir has announced at the press conference that it will not raise any deposit to enrich the permanent collection with some example of art made by Latin American painters.

The exhibition is made up of 107 pieces, of which 95 are kept in cultural institutions, religious spaces or collections in Spain. The director assured at a press conference that the intention of the exhibition was “to tell the Spanish public that the art that was produced in America is not so different.” That goal is largely achieved because Tour it is a reflection of what is Spanish in America, but not vice versa. The purpose was not to discover how Spanish taste colonized the invaded cultures and, however, it is the most interesting thing about this exhibition: once colonized and subdued, they dedicated themselves to copying and revising the Catholic myths and reproducing them to satisfy a market on the other side. of the Atlantic that this imagery demanded.

Miguel Falomir writes in the catalog that Tour “It wants to be an invitation to rethink the place of America in Spanish society, past and above all present, now that hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens are of Hispanic-American origin.” The conclusion of this exhibition to this noble purpose is not very promising: America is integrated into Spanish society, but in the museum it appears as an exotic touch. America as an appendix of Spain is the product of the colonialist point of view with which the works of art made during the Modern Age by American artists are related, of whom nothing is explained and from which the political, economic and social context has been usurped. Nor do we know who ordered the parts or why.

The absence of context creates a childish vision of the appearance of an art imposed on the native population. According to this particular gaze that deactivates everything that happens beyond the frame, the American pictorial tradition arose spontaneously out of nowhere: suddenly, America was painting European. Perhaps the absence of explanations is due to the curator’s intention to create a story “very visual and with minimal texts” that reinforce the idea of ​​”originality and aesthetic creativity” of those artists.

There are fillers that emphasize the colonial gaze as well as the paternalism that some cartouches exude, such as the one that explains that “American painters were aware of their technical quality.” Unless the curator is surprised that there were American painters, they were aware, among other things, because it was the trade they lived on. It doesn’t seem like an extraordinary enough event to make it stand out. A similar rhetorical formula applied to painters such as Velázquez is unthinkable. “He was aware of his technical quality” …

In the long journey there is not a single mention of the true interests of Spain, in need of products that would make long-distance trade profitable. They were found in spices, precious metals, and slaves. In those ships that arrived in Cádiz and Seville, according to the story presented by the Prado Museum, only art came and not a slave. This silencing is the most scandalous of a gaze that focuses its attention on materials, materials, techniques and brushes to escape a historical investigation into the true motives that made this “transatlantic art traffic” possible. Tour it is an aesthetic vindication of the works of art that hides the political dimension that the long process of invasion and cultural colonization of America represented.

The striking change from the term “evangelization” to “catechization” has not been clarified either by the curator of the exhibition, who sees in this substitution a mere alternative of synonyms. The vision of that moment speaks of evangelizing the savages to convert them to Christianity and even former president José María Aznar uses that term to refer to that purpose of Spanish Catholicism. Talking about evangelization means opening up to the conflict of the critical review of the history of Spain, which the Prado is not willing to carry out. Tour It would have been a good opportunity to see how that conquest happened in the field of visual arts. To know this cultural imposition, we will have to continue waiting for the museum to assume the critical terms of postcolonial historiography.

Only at the beginning of the tour did the curator and his team timidly approach the invasion and cultural colonization, with four paintings on loan from the Museum of America. They summarize the bloodiest events; what happened in between, between the subjugation of the indigenous populations and the birth of the first Europeanized American artists, the visitor must imagine.

For all Tour It is not a look at America, but a look at Spain and the taste that reigned for three centuries even on the other side of the Atlantic. It is a tribute to those who assimilate imposition, an exhibition that celebrates the “Murillo of the New World” and does not teach what art was produced without the desire to please the Spanish court. The contrast would have been appreciated. And the best thing that happens to the exhibition is that the attempt to analyze American artistic culture ends up leading, involuntarily, into another on the Spanish taste imposed in the invasion. Of course, it is not an investigation into the diversity of American art preserved in Spain, nor is it a dialogue between the communities that make up “Hispanidad”. It is the celebration of the European look beyond Europe.


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