The IAC organized an exhibition in honor of the painter Sérvulo Gutiérrez in Lima from October to November 1961. The exhibition was part of IAC’s ongoing efforts to revitalize and promote modern art in Peru. It was also the IAC’s second retrospective. (The first one showcased the work of the freelance indigenist Mario Urteaga.) The event was prompted by Gutiérrez’s recent demise and by the prominant role his work had played in the Peruvian art world in the mid-1920s, especially in terms of his embrace of modern figurative art. But his stubborn rejection of abstraction lacked the kind of programmatic formulation that could have drawn attention to his interventions in local disputes on the subject in the 1950s. The IAC exhibition provided a retrospective view of his career at a time when abstraction was already the lingua franca of the emerging Peruvian avant-garde. From this perspective, Acha’s introduction in the catalogue included a thoughtful review of the artist’s work, which some interpreted as being critical of Gutiérrez. Consistent with his “avant-garde faith,” Acha claimed that this painter’s work lacked a quality he described as “artistic creativity,” attributing that value exclusively to the international avant-garde. His major critique centered on his contention that the painter lacked the “minimal mental faculties”—despite the fact that he skirted the boundaries of figurative art—to enter the realm of abstraction. One of Acha’s detractors, the writer Juan Ríos, condemned the negative tone of the introduction (given that this exhibition was a tribute to the painter in question).
The Peruvian critic Juan Acha (1916–1995), who lived in Mexico, was one of the main promoters of the Peruvian artistic avant-garde in the mid-1960s. In his articles, essays, and newspaper reviews, he was both a theoretical champion for Pop and Op Art and a supporter for the young artists in those movements that represented the developmental ideology of the period.
Acha originally trained as a chemical engineer. However, he later developed an impressive resume in the field of art theory and art history and became the main art critic in Peru (under the pseudonym “J. Nahuaca”) from the late 1950s until 1971 when, after a brief sojourn in the United States, he settled permanently in Mexico City. His intellectual reflections there contributed to his stature as an essential reference in the social theory of art and the new concepts concerning what was known as non-objectualism.