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AT THE BEATRIZ GONZÁLEZ RETROSPECTIVE mounted by Miami’s Perez Art Museum (April 19–September 2, 2019), I found myself saying, “This is the art we need.” González, now eighty-one, gained international acclaim in the sixties, at a time when few Latin American women artists were praised outside their own countries. Though her work is sometimes associated with the Pop Art movement, its frank political engagement with the period of Colombian history known as La Violencia makes it a peculiar fit within the category. Perez’s show was the first large-scale U.S. retrospective of the artist, and the timing felt freighted: González’s work stands as a kind of tutorial in what it means to bear witness, steadfastly, to the hard truths of a period, particularly when it is characterized by assaults on taken-for-granted liberties and norms of decency.

Presenting over sixty years of art, the exhibition included González’s paintings, prints, drawings, and sculptures. During the earlier period of her work, González used industrial paints—acrylic and enamel—to produce figures that were color-saturated and flattened, techniques that were “purposefully working against sophistication” as a virtue set by Western art and elites. She began her career preoccupied with aesthetics, but when politics in Colombia shifted, her work changed as well. We can see the shift to explicitly political concerns in Decoración de interiores (Interior Decoration, 1981), for example, a large installation comprised of two lengthy curtains. Each one is a rendering of a photo of a dinner party that Julio César Turbay Ayala held during his tenure as president of Colombia. The piece depicts the president’s guests mingling, laughing, and sipping champagne. One curtain offers the image in bright yellows and greens, and the other portrays the image in brown and white. The party goers, drawn in González’s blocky style, convey the free and easy decadence of a society’s elite, safely ensconced in the interior of their wealthy homes. The curtains seem heavy, as if they are fit for the task of keeping the outside out, but Turbay and his guests were not as removed as the mood of the image implies.

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About Boston Review

Allies is the first publication of Boston Review's newly inaugurated Arts in Society department. A radical revisioning of the magazine's poetry and fiction, the department unites them—along with cultural criticism and belles lettres—under a project that explores how the arts can speak directly to the most pressing political and civic concerns of our age, from growing inequality to racial and gender regimes, a disempowered electorate, and a collapsing natural world.

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