This article provides a typical example of the values promoted in Venezuelan democratic circles that encouraged “a willingness to adopt” Western historical traditions (that were, on the whole, considered universal). The fact that this National Prize for Visual Arts, the first of its kind, was awarded to a Kinetic artist like Carlos Cruz-Diez was therefore far from insignificant. On the contrary, it reinforced a historical determination to participate, since Kinetic artists insisted on their desire to create universal works that were unencumbered by any sort of national or nationalist parameters. Furthermore, the “willingness to adopt” Western values was in line with the state’s desire to institutionalize cultural activities throughout the country, seeking to make a national initiative of what had traditionally been limited to the capital city. Hence the fact that the prize was announced in the provinces (Maracay) rather than in Caracas.
The agreement between the universality pursued by Geometric Abstract and Kinetic artists and the political philosophies of democratic governments in Venezuela during the second half of the twentieth century helps to explain why they were considered “official artists.” This was the approach taken by left wing constituencies in their overall defense of folk art that preferred to see the country’s history through the prism of pre-Columbian rather than European or Western traditions. The article reveals the clear disagreement between two large segments of the population regarding how each one envisioned their country or what they felt about their nation’s aspiration to be clearly and unreservedly within the Western orbit. Democratic governments wavered between their consistent desire for modernity and progress and their vision of a country seeking to define itself independently based on what differentiated it from Europe: its pre-Columbian origins.
Anyone who is familiar with Venezuela’s recent political history and its Bolivarian Revolution will recognize in this article a clear description of the positions taken at the time that are still, to this day, relevant concerning a vision of the country’s history. Today, for example, there is a clear preference for indigenous, pre-Columbian values over European ones just as there was once a rejection of anything that might associate the country with its European heritage. There is an obvious opposition to the institutionalizing drive that influenced the state’s actions in those earlier days, and the personality of cult policies of “Chavista-style” governments (Hugo Chávez 1999–2013 and his successors) that, usually, tend to dismantle the power of institutions and submit them to the will of the ruling class.