Orientation trips
The Mondriaan Fund organises orientation trips for visual artists and mediators to Asia, Latin America and Africa since 2004. The trips are aimed at exchange and cooperation between visual art professionals.

Museo Nacional de Colombia – “Is this my nation?”

This question was rhetorically posed to us by chief curator María Paola Rodríguez at the Museo Nacional de Colombia when she tried to reflect on the daunting task that a national museum has of representing a country in its entirety – especially one with as complex and dramatic history as Colombia. It was not until 1991 that Colombia officially recognized itself as a multiethnic, multireligious, and multicultural nation, however, the vast collections of the museum, the curator stated, to a large degree still only reflect what white Catholic men with their worldview shaped by European culture thought was important to remember.

The Museo Nacional was founded in 1823 following Colombia’s declaration of independence from its previous colonial Spanish overlords. The museum was originally intended to be a science museum only but due to the scarcity of museums in Colombia, the collection quickly developed to also encompass history and art collections. An old prison based on the infamous ”panopticon” model of Jeremy Bentham in which prisoners can be watched without knowing that they are under surveillance is now home to the museum, and a returning theme in Maria Paola Rodriguez’ presention was the challenge of working in a national heritage building which to this day heavly evokes the original purpose of the site with its heavy walls, portcullises and peepholes.

The Museo Nacional is currently undergoing restoration and a rehanging of the collection. However, due to the importance of the museum for the Colombian public, it is not possible to close the museum entirely, thus the staff consistently needs to do temporary hangings of the collections in the rooms that are available to them.

The educational purpose of the museum clearly rested heavily on María Paola Rodríguez’ mind, challenged as the museum is by the need to be able to reflect Colombia’s new diverse self-understanding while on the other hand having a public which according to the curator still has a difficult time adjusting to hearing both the voices of indigenous people and having tales of Colombia’s recent dark history of guerrillas and narcos included in the official biography of the nation.

Merete Jankowski

Museo de Arte del Banco de la República

Driving through downtown Bogotá with a van is not without challenges. The roads are bumpy, full of potholes and tend to be curvy, steep and narrow. Nevertheless our chauffeur drives us fast and skillfully to our next stop in Candelária, which is the Museo de Arte del Banco de la República. Here we are welcomed by curator Nicolás Gómez and Julián Sánchez, who is in charge of the educational program of the museum. As Nicolás has to be “everywhere at once” on the inauguration day of ARTBO he hands us over to Julián. We don’t mind. Julián soon turns out to be a very enthusiastic guide with a lot of knowledge of the collection.

Housed in the colonial Casa de la Moneda, where coins were produced until the 1960’s, Banco de la República presents a varied selection of colonial, modern and contemporary art. The colonial collection gives a solid idea of the visual arts made in the Granada viceroyalty, to which Colombia, Venezuela, Panama and Ecuador belonged from the 16th till 18th century. We encounter a remarkable collection of nuns lying in state, stemming from a tradition that is unique in Latin America and, so has been thought, globally. Surrounded by roses, representing their virtues, and accompanied by a short description of their personalities, these paintings used to adorn the dining room of the convent.

The modern section of the museum focuses on art from Colombian and Latin American artists who have shown an interest in local values and traditions instead of (uncritically) copying Western artistic idioms. Themes such as the ordinary, anonymous Colombian and the indigenous past are well represented. Of Luis Alberta Acuña (1904 – 1993) for example we see a painting depicting the pre-colombian Muisca goddes Bachué, who emerged out of lake Iguaque with a baby in her arms. Violencia, by Alejandro Obregón (1920 – 1992) refers to violence against women in Colombia. Over time the work has become an icon of this, unfortunately still present, social issue.

Entering the next room we are drawn towards the wall objects of Colombia’s first conceptual artist Bernardo Salcedo (1939 – 2007). His boxes filled with straw refer to the unequal division of land and income in Colombia. Contrary to Western conceptual art, the approach of artists from Latin America predominantly has been political.

Via a selection of geometric, concrete and kinetic art works, with work of three important Colombian concrete artists such as Fanny Sanín (1938), Omar Rayo (1928 – 2010) and Manolo Vellojín (1943 – 2013), we arrive in a room with pop art including an installation of Beatriz González (1938), one of the most prominent figures in Colombia’s art world.

The highlights of the contemporary selection of Banco de la República to conclude are an iconic sculpture by Doris Salcedo (1958), a beautiful textile piece by Rosemberg Sandoval (1959), a sculpture made of shells by María Fernanda Cardoso (1963) and a striking work by Olga de Amaral (1932), referring to both the modernist artistic idiom and local crafts carried out by women.

Madelon van Schie