Ars Longa Vita Brevis

Categories: Writings on Álvaro Barrios

By Eduardo Serrano. From the catalog entitled Premio Luis Caballero, 1998


Galería Santafe. Bogotá, 1998.

Exhibition “Ars Longa Vita Brevis”. Galería Santafe. Bogotá, 1998.


This work points out the continuous renewal that Álvaro Barrios’ works have experienced. Álvaro Barrios is one of the leading characters of the development of Colombian visual arts during the last decades.


Barrios surprised the critics in the late 80s with his drawings done with astonishing ability. But from that moment onwards, the artist began a fight against his own innate skill, against the eloquence of his lines and his inclinations towards aesthetics, thus filling his works with increasingly bold concepts. This is how he first extended his representations to the three-dimensional space by placing his drawings in shop windows and including various objects in them. With such objects he formed scenes reminiscent of fairy tales or science fiction. Later on, he delved into installation art; and further on he began the creation of what he calls his Grabados populares (Popular prints), which he published in newspapers. Additionally, people presented these prints to him so that he could sign and number them as though they belonged to a deluxe edition.


Consequently, it is not strange that his production soon fell under the influence of Marcel Duchamp, the great prophet who buried style and authorship as artistic values and whose works were crucial for the birth of an art of ideas. For some time, he followed the French artist’s path step by step. He repeated Duchamp’s accomplishments and experiences as though he wanted to emphasize that if the author and the work’s trend were not the most important element, then he could refresh Duchamp’s production with new content and grant it new meanings that were more in tune with his time and circumstances. In this period, the series entitled Dreams about Marcel Duchamp is specially noteworthy, as its descriptions present an explicit consideration of art as being in-between iconoclastic and visionary, transcendental and amusing. In this work, Barrios follows that line of work.


In this installation, the central area houses the original works of Francisco de Goya, Salvador Dalí, Andy Warhol, Jean Tinguely, and Colombian artists Carlos Rojas and Luis Caballero. In front of these stands a sort of burial mound clarifying that these are deceased artists. In this mound one recognizes coals, and black is a predominant color, possibly associated to cremation and other death-related rituals of contemporary society.


On the mound, Hippocrates’ first aphorism can be read in big letters: ARS LONGA VITA BREVIS, which leaves no doubt that Barrios intention was to state that the survival of a piece of art goes beyond its author’s lifespan. He reiterates this idea with two white marble torches, a symbol of eternal life.


“O Caritas,” a song by Cat Stevens about the brevity of the material world and the permanence of the spiritual one can be heard sporadically in the room, and its Latin lyrics can be read in red panels, thus complementing the installation’s setting and confirming that Barrios, following Duchamp’s ideas without refering to his works directly, is interested above all in an art that does not remain in the retina, but awakens the spectator’s consciousness and imagination.