According to Álvaro Barrios (born 1945), in 1968, after returning from Italy, he approached Marta Traba (1923–1983)—director of the Museo de Arte Moderno of Bogotá at the time—about the possibility of holding a show of site-specific works. On December 10, that exhibition opened under the title Espacios Ambientales, the term used at that time to refer to what are now called “installations.” Santiago Cárdenas (born 1937) made a trampantojo [Eye Trap] on the wall; the work by Ana Mercedes Hoyos (born 1942)—which was awarded at the show—consisted of a sort of labyrinth entitled Blanco sobre blanco sobre blanco [White on White on White]; in a Duchampian gesture, Bernardo Salcedo (1939–2007) presented a urinal; Feliza Bursztyn (1933–1982) exhibited Histéricas [Hysterics]; Álvaro Barrios recreated a space with intermittent lights; and, finally, Víctor Celso Muñoz, a master builder, put an enormous model of the city entitled Bogotá, una ciudad en marcha para el beneficio de todo el país [Bogotá, A City Working for the Benefit of the Whole Country] in the museum.
Both Traba and Barrios were well aware of how hard it would be for the public to accept these works, indeed, not only the general public, but also artists, critics, and other experts who had supposedly kept abreast of the changes in Modern art. With this exhibition, Traba hoped to show that the relationship between the work and the viewer had changed; she even hoped that “outraged and amused, viewers would ask the eternal question ‘what is this?,’ asking for definitions to be put before them like the ABCs: ‘this is a painting,’ ‘this is a sculpture,’ ‘this is a cow,’ ‘this is a butterfly.’”
In that regard, Traba’s provocation did not end merely with the organization and opening of the show, but also with the publication of this article (five days after the inauguration) intended to challenge the neophyte and inexperienced public. Indeed, two students from the Universidad Nacional (in whose campus the MAM museum of Bogotá was located) violently burst into the building, damaged two pieces and threw pamphlets demanding an art for the people. This was an incident that probably surprised everybody but Marta Traba. To complement this article, see “Reflexionando después de las batallas” .