PRINT Summer 1995


The Venezuelan artist Meyer Vaisman, elected to represent his country in this year’s Venice Biennale, proposed a project consisting of two housing units, each of a type familiar in the Venezuelan landscape. One structure, Verde par fuera, roja par dentro (Green outside, red inside), which was previously installed at tile Galería de Arte Nacional, would have replicated the kind of rancho or shanty in which most of tile country’s urban population lives. Inside the makeshift structure of hollow bricks and mortar, the artist would re-create his bedroom from his adolescence in Caracas, complete with furniture in the watered-down international style favored by Venezuela’s upper-middle class since the ’50s. A second structure was to be a palafito, the kind of home built over water typical of the Indians of La Laguna de Sinamaica (The lagoon of Sinamaica), a place that figures decisively in the national story. In fact the country took its name from this region, after the explorer Amerigo Vespucci, pejoratively comparing the stilted palafitos with the palaces on the canals of Venice, baptized the nation “little Venice,” or Venezuela. The area was also the geographic center of the postwar oil industry, source of the country’s economic boom and concomitant modern development. Vaisman planned to re-create his childhood bedroom in the palafito just as he would simulate his teenage bedroom in the rancho. Finally, equal amounts of water from Venice’s Grand Canal and the Lagoon of Sinamaica were to be pumped into Venezuela’s National Pavilion, where they would circulate and mix via transparent plastic hoses, suggesting an integration of the two structures, and of the new the old world.

Vaisman’s piece didn’t quite fit the Biennale’s theme, but that’s not a requirement for the national pavilions. More to the point, the project clashed with the agenda of Venezuela’s Consejo Nacional de la Cultural (CONAC), the body that had voted to elect Vaisman the country’s representative in Venice. The committee insisted Vaisman abandon his plans and offer an alternative proposal more befitting the dignity of an international exposition. When he refused to be censored, CONAC called for a repeat election by a newly formed committee, a political maneuver that prompted Vaisman to withdraw from the Biennale entirely.

It is a paradox of contemporary Venezuelan art that it serves as a reflection of “Venezuela Saudita”—the slang term adopted by the country’s intelligentsia to characterize the cash-rich atmosphere that existed at the time of the nationalization of the oil industry here in 1974. In this the condition of art resembles that of the nation as a whole—a resemblance that may in fact be the only thing it shares with the rest of the country, for there has been a divorce in Venezuela between reality and artistic practice, a separation sustained in the name of rather dubious humanistic intentions. It is also paradoxical that this project of Vaisman’s, so maligned by pious censors who agree on its eccentricity in relation to their sense of the national narrative, is perhaps the first Venezuelan art to articulate so many intersections of this country’s hybrid, “transcultural” culture.

Transculturalization in reverse: so Vaisman has described his project, in which his and his country’s history are intertwined in a comedy of ambiguities that, in his hands, interrupts the circularity of those investigations of identity in which universals and radical difference are forced into false coincidence.

Jesús Fuenmayor is a writer and curator based in Caracas.

Translated from the Spanish by Vincent T. Martin.

Verde por fuera, roja por dentro (Green outside, red inside), previously exhibited at the Galería de Arte Nacional, Caracas, Venezuela, in 1993.