In this article, Austrian-born critic Walter Engel (1908–2005) discusses the exhibition of women artists held at the Museo Nacional of Colombia in 1951. He criticizes the fact that many works on exhibition are mere pictorial exercises that fail to display a new aesthetic language specific to art by women in Colombia. This salon was held at a crucial juncture in Colombian society, when conservative sectors supported by President Laureano Gómez (1889–1965) and the Catholic Church were fervently defending conventional morality and social customs. Exhibitions like this one were geared to highlight the morality of the works displayed. While the show consisted of works by women—an essential part of conservative society—the idea was to exemplify how women, although relegated to the home, could pursue a special hobby, like art.
Not all the women who had been responsible for major changes in Colombian art took part in the show. Perhaps that is why Engel focuses his analysis on work by those who showed mastery in composition and a distinct aesthetic vision, artists such as Inés Acevedo Biester, daughter of academic artist Ricardo Acevedo Bernal (1867–1930). In Engel’s view, Acevedo Biester’s work eloquently reflects unabashed academicism. The other artist that Engel mentions is Blanca Sinisterra de Carreño (1907–1995) whose use of technique, in Engel’s opinion, is surprising and self-assured. In her method, “the palette knife plays a prominent role” as she mixes colors directly on the canvas surface. Engel asserts that the work of some of the artists in the exhibition illustrates the debate between “the classical and the modern” in compositions that reveal a personal vision instead of the mere rendering of the environment.
As Engel states, some of the artists made use of new aesthetic languages, although the exhibition as a whole placed emphasis on the literal depiction of “certain objects well removed from creative impulses,” and from the artistic potential of the languages being developed in Colombian modern art at the time.