This is one of the first essays that provides a reflexive overview of early abstract art in Colombia. Art critic María Elvira Iriarte published the piece in two parts, in issues number 23 and number 24 of the Revista Arte en Colombia (1984) [see “Primeras etapas de la abstracción en Colombia II,” 1079798]. Both attempt to salvage from oblivion the artists, venues, exhibitions, publications, and critics that played an important role in the 1940s and 1950s, the decades during which abstract language gained strength on the Colombian art scene. The article includes images of artists that Iriarte considers key to the process in a visual display of the different moments and tendencies within local abstraction.
The political context in Colombia at the time was by no means favorable to the dissemination of the changes taking place in art internationally (mainly in France and the United States): in 1953, General Gustavo Rojas Pinilla (1900–1975) seized power in Colombia and dictatorship ensued. Paradoxically, the figure of Rojas Pinilla emerged as a possibility for change in the face of the war between two factions that had beset the country. Under his administration, which lasted until 1957, the country’s major newspapers—El Tiempo and El Espectador—were shut down or censored. Nonetheless, as Iriarte points out, two art publications were created during this period: Plástica (founded in 1956) and Prisma (founded in 1957). Furthermore, the work of critics—chief among them Marta Traba (1923–1983)—bolstered the discourse and position of the visual arts both domestically and abroad.
The first event that Iriarte cites as a precedent for the development of abstract art in Colombia is the publication of the text “Pintura y realidad” [Painting and Reality] by painter Marco Ospina (1912–1983) in 1947 in the Revista Universidad Nacional (September 10, 1947, pp. 37–50). Iriarte asserts that in this text Ospina defends what is called “non-figurative art.” Iriarte points to another moment critical to the beginning of abstract art in Colombia: the Primera Exposición Colectiva de Pintura Abstracta [First Collective Exhibition of Abstract Painting] held in 1952 at the Biblioteca Nacional in Bogotá.