1940s – 1960s
In October 1940, Jorge Eliécer Gaitán, the Colombian Minister of Education, and Eduardo Santos, President of Colombia, inaugurated the first annual exhibition of Colombian artists, at the National Library in Bogotá.
In the opening speech, Gaitán mentioned two important roles the newly born event would have. The first, to serve as a place where the public could “ultimately decide, whether or not there is a national art." Second, to be a center that would train artists to "judge and assess the art of others, with a crystal-clear impartiality and without the prejudices of schools or trends."
The Salon was thus conceived of as a dual space in which the works would be a kind of hinge. They would make the public think about whether there was an authentically Colombian art or not, and stimulate the artists themselves to judge the quality of art with more rigor.
The Annual Salon consolidated two previous attempts to mount an exhibition that would display the whole range of Colombian art. The first was a one-time national exhibition held in 1886 and the second, the Salon of Colombian Artists, held in 1931, exhibited 155 works by 73 artists, among them 16 women. “The jurors were poets, ambassadors and politicians,” the renowned Colombian artist Beatriz González points out. “Few knew about art. Painting prevailed at that time.” Jaime Cerón, Director of the Visual Arts Section at the Ministry of Culture, remarks that the Salon showed “a small world in which only the works of local artists were exhibited,” even though it was aware of the need to create art which artists throughout the country could identify with.
During the 1940's, the venue of the Salon was the Biblioteca Nacional (National Library) in Bogotá, and a prize was awarded at each event. Among the winners at that time were Ignacio Gómez Jaramillo, Carlos Correa and Alberto Acuña, painters of an academic bent who were gradually displaced by a generational change that climaxed in 1952, with the consolidation of artists inspired by modern art and native cultures.
In the 1950's and 60's the venue shifted to the Museo Nacional (National Museum), but the Salon was suspended during the dictatorship of General Rojas Pinilla (1953-1957). However, Colombian art continued to flourish in commercial galleries like the Buchholz, El Callejón and the Galería Central.
During the 1960's, in response to the new trends in Colombian art, the Salons began to show modern expressions, expanding its coverage beyond painting and sculpture, and including categories like drawings, prints and ceramics. Another key development was the beginning of professional art criticism in Colombia, with pioneering critics like Marta Traba, Walter Engel and Casimiro Eiger, and specialized publications, like Prisma (1957) and Plástica (1956/ 1960).
Some of the artists who showed at the Salons then began to attain recognition on both a national and international level. Among those who participated and/or won awards, there were figures now widely known, such as Eduardo Ramírez Villamizar, Fernando Botero, Alejandro Obregón, Edgar Negret, Enrique Grau, Norman Mejía, Beatriz González, Pedro Alcántara Herrán, Álvaro Barrios, Luis Caballero, Santiago Cárdenas, Feliza Bursztyn and Carlos Rojas, among others. Beatriz González admits that she was not the same after winning a special second prize, for painting, at the 17th National Salon in 1965. A year later, the Salon moved to yet another venue, the Luis Ángel Arango Library in Bogotá.
1970s – 1990s
In 1970, at the 21st edition of the National Salon, the Venezuelan juror Juan Calzadilla highlighted the crisis the event was going through by remarking, “I’m a spectator at a funeral.” He was right in the sense that many artists who had been prominent in the previous two decades no longer submitted their works. The organizers then decided to hold the Salon every two years and stop awarding prizes.
In 1976, in response to this crisis, Regional Salons were created in order to decentralize the event and broaden the participation of artists. This was the decade of conceptual art and hyperrealism, and photographs were awarded a prize for the first time. Among the now well-known artists who participated in the Salons of this decade we find Beatriz González, Alfonso Quijano, Bernardo Salcedo, Antonio Caro, María de la Paz Jaramillo, Clemencia Lucena, Juan Antonio Roda, Álvaro Barrios, Santiago Cárdenas, Antonio Caro, Juan Camilo Uribe, Fernell Franco, El Sindicato group and Alicia Barney.
In a sort of delayed response to Calzadilla's harsh judgment, the Salons were suspended between 1980 and 1985 in order to rethink their purpose. Although one was held in Bogotá in 1985, it was during this decade that the Salon began to visit different parts of the country. The 1987 edition was held at the Olaya Herrera airport in Medellín, and in 1989, in Cartagena, to commemorate its 50th anniversary. In 1990 the Salon returned to Bogotá, and the venue was the international trade fair site, Corferias. 357 artists participated, the most in the history of the event, and the attendance of the public correspondingly grew.
During this decade the Salon witnessed the emergence of a new generation of artists, such as Nadín Ospina, María Teresa Hincapié, Luis Fernando Roldán, Wilson Díaz, Maria Fernanda Cardoso, Rodrigo Facundo, José Horacio Martínez, Juan Fernando Herrán, and José Alejandro Restrepo. The art of this period was characterized by, among other trends, the use of new media technologies and the use of photography to document socio-artistic practices.
The New Century
With the advent of the 21st century, the format of the large-scale, all-embracing art exhibition either declined or went through major organizational and conceptual changes. Events like the Salon, which had been intended to represent the art of a whole country (“the thermometer of Colombian art,” in the words of Marta Traba), gave way to smaller ones, with more limited themes and specific curatorial aims. The notion of the Salon as a “thermometer” of Colombian art was discarded, partly in response to new exhibition philosophies on a world level, and partly in response to practical difficulties (mounting an exhibition at Corferias proved to be too expensive, for example).
Thus, the Salon changed its format. The jury which had previously selected artists was replaced by a curatorial committee and specific conceptual themes dictated the choice of the works. In the year 2000, the Pentagon Project arose, which had four aspects: art works, research, the consolidation of exhibitions and the dissemination of contemporary art in Colombia. In the frame of this project the following exhibitions took place: Materialismos, Imágenes en 3D, in Bogotá, Bucaramanga and Pereira, Actos de Fabulación, Arte, Cuerpo y Pensamiento, in Bogotá, Medellín and Santa Marta, and Espacios Entretejidos, Arte, Moda y Vestido, in Bogotá, Cali and Medellín.
The fortieth version, held in 2004, was based on the research of the curators, who chose the guest artists. There were 14 exhibits, which toured 17 departmental capitals before reaching Bogotá. The curators were chosen by the Regional Visual Arts Committees, made up of representatives of cultural and academic institutions from seven regions of Colombia: the Central, Eastern, Southern, Pacific, Orinoco, Caribbean and Central Western.
The 41st National Salon, held in Cali and entitled ¡Urgente! was curated by Victoria Noorthoorn, Óscar Muñoz, Bernardo Ortiz, José Horacio Martínez and Wilson Díaz. It was a major event, nourished by two trends: works from the 12 Regional Salons of the previous year, and by Colombian and foreign guest artists. Due to the large number of works, the show was subdivided into three exhibitions (Imagen en cuestión, Presentación y representación y Participación y poética) [Picture in question, Presentation and Representation, Participation and Poetics]; three urgent concerns for art dealt with in different ways by Colombian and foreign artists.
The Salon also included the 7th edition of the Cali Performance Festival, organized by Helena Productions, an independent art collective; an educational and artistic program organized by the city's faculties of art; and side events like concerts, lectures, panel discussions and screenings of videos.
The following Salon of National Artists, number 42, was entitled Independientemente [Independently] and held in different venues on the Caribbean Coast of Colombia: among them, Cartagena, Barranquilla and Santa Marta. The idea of the curatorial team was to highlight the regional characteristics of the Caribbean and towards this aim, regional curators chose artists to conduct workshops in different communities there. One of its features was entitled El Encuentro de Lugares [Encounter of Places], a weeklong discussion of art in Cartagena.
The 43rd Salon
The 43 Colombian (Inter) National Salon of Artists, will be held in the city of Medellín between September and November, 2013. The modification of its traditional name is a bow to the notion that the pressing reality of the world causes everything to change and the term “Inter” specifically denotes the international scope of the event, a change seen in the past two editions, and its growing interest in networking and establishing a dialogue between artworks by local, national and international artists.
This version of the Salon will take place in three venues (The Medellín Museum of Modern Art, the Museum of Antioquia and the Edifico Antioquia – formerly known as the Naviera Grancolombiana). It seeks, on the one hand, to address the traditions and knowledge of specific territories, and, on the other, notions long associated with art, such as uncertainty, doubt, ambiguity, the unknown and the collapse of univocal meanings, with a special focus on the context of Medellín, Colombia and South America. The aim is to effect a feedback between these apparently opposite but interrelated ideas.
The new Salon will present iconic and emblematic works of art in ways that make them accessible to an ample public and highlight trends and developments in contemporary art that might otherwise go unnoticed.