Believe It or Not! Second-rate Artists Who Became Extraordinary

Categories: Writings by Álvaro Barrios

By Álvaro Barrios. From the exhibition catalog, Galería Alonso Garcés. Bogotá, 2010


2010. Acrílico sobre lienzo, 100 x 140 cm.

Believe It or Not! Second-Rate Artists Who Became Extraordinary! (Félix González-Torres). 2010. Acrylic on canvas, 100 x 140 cm


My interest in using my work to reflect on art itself dates back to the beginning of my career. Like other artists who created what was then called “art about art,” I too felt a great attraction for using pre-existing images from the culture as support for developing other discourses in other contexts. Belonging to the generation of the sixties, I lived through the crisis of modernism and its final collapse, with the ensuing re-structuring of the values and opinions that had been operative up until then, including systems such as the critique and theory of art, as well as the predominance of a “mainstream” managed by the developed world. During that period many modern artists with a conservative tendency aligned themselves with a traditional-type of conduct, which others of my same generation also followed. As a participant in changing times, I reorganized my ideas to make them function in the present. I thus proposed to forge, from the perspective of my work, a way of formulating other readings of the critique, theory, and history of art.


Since my work was tied to literature and text from the beginning, I found the right space, especially in recent years, to explicitly develop my conjectures about the mutation of the art/society equation, without forgetting the other, no less important relationship between reality and fantasy. This allowed me to take a step back from my responsibility for the judgments issued, leaving them in the limbo between doubt and premonition. Thus in my Sueños con Marcel Duchamp (Dreams about Marcel Duchamp), taking a variety of literary licenses is the basis for suggesting a history of art not as it occurred, but as I would have liked it to have happened. In El noticiero del siglo XX (The News Program of the Twentieth Century) I indicate some of the works that, from my point of view, altered the direction of art. In the series Esfinge de diamantes (Diamond Sphinx), a crystal ball in the form of Damien Hirst’s skull has permission to either honor or pass judgment. And in ¡Aunque ud. no lo crea! (Believe it or Not!) (using the imagery of the comic strip by that name, combined with the supermen of artist Tom of Finland and the mythical Charles Atlas) I present, in an apparently trivial atmosphere, the unsolvable mystery of creative illumination, its precarious stability or duration, and “the coming and going of the muses” throughout the careers of many artists. In fact, how does the Light come to artists and how can it leave us just as indiscriminately? Are artists self-sufficient beings, capable of maintaining the same level throughout our lives? Is talent a product of spiritual intervention or magic that grants a gift or takes it away?


Appealing to the recourse of allegory—already used by myself on other occasions—in this new series I make a comparison between the development of physical beauty and artistic talent in an attempt to reach the philosophical roots of art and its mysterious presence after the appearance of the human phenomenon.