Some weeks ago I had the pleasure of going to a private exhibition of Venezuelan op-art supremo Carlos Cruz Diez. The encounter was all the more meaningful for me, for I had just handed in an essay entitled “El fracaso de realidades decretadas: arte moderno en espacios publicos en Venezuela”, and some of the questions I have posed in it, I wanted to ask directly to one of the remaining Venezuelan artists that had seen their work favoured by the country’s top political class in the past.
The gist of my essay, as the title so clearly suggest, was to argue that reality can not be changed by decree. Dictators, caudillos and the like have tried to do so in the past, and given that Cruz Diez thought once that “the artist must be totally committed to its immediate socio-political reality” and that art was “another medium through which to reflect reality and to attain Latin American dignity”, clearly stances that identified with prevailing policy, I certainly wasn’t going to pass on the opportunity to question him on these issues.
To be frank, it was quite exceptional to hear someone of the stature of Cruz Diez, going against previous ideological positions and actually admitting, rather candidly, that in the case of Venezuela, art had had a negligible, if that, impact on reality. My questions were, of course, aimed at determining whether previous administrations had been successful in altering the socio-political reality of Venezuelans by decree, or whether by commissioning works of art, to be exhibited in public spaces, Venezuelans had in any way changed socially or politically. Cruz Diez said “no chico, si yo hubiera sabido entonces…” meaning that his reasoning in the 60ies and 70ies was informed on a positivist reality that the governments of the time tried to impose, to no avail.
Another question that I posed was the use of red by the current regime. I said to him that the country has turned red and that by associating with or painting Bolivar in red, what the propaganda masters of Chavez had done was actually bank on the capital of an icon already well established in the majority of Venezuelans. Very clever, and targeted specifically to the largely ignorant masses, for whom political messages must be crafted in a language they can easily digest without much questioning: read imagery. In fact, the output of chavismo in this respect surpasses, as intellectual manifestation and by far, literary production, the responsibles of which have failed miserably at coming up with novel and creative ideas/concepts to spread the doctrine of ’21st Century Socialism’. I argued that color had been at the forefront of artistic revolutions in Venezuela since a long time, to which he agreed, stressing that that was one of the reasons why he decided to pursue color in itself, rather than color as part of something else.
Within the Venezuelan context, Cruz Diez is of the opinion that the artist and the politico are equally incapable of effecting any long term change in people’s behavior, for this can only be achieved through education. He commented about the irony of going from being one of the favorite artists to being an outcast, for the present regime, without having modified his work.