– Autumn/Winter 2017

'Struggle as Culture': The Museum of Solidarity, 1971-73

María Berríos

Poster for the exhibition ‘El pueblo tiene arte con Allende’ (‘The People Have Art with Allende’), 1970, offset lithograph, 56 × 58cm. Courtesy Fundación Salvador Allende, Santiago de Chile

Can a museum be a weapon? What follows is the story of how a small-scale early-1970s counter-information campaign to defend the Chilean ‘revolution without arms’ against a transnational imperialist smear campaign materialised into an experimental museum, based on the principle that art and politics are intrinsically inseparable.1 Initially simply a ‘beautiful and generous’ idea of a museum free and open to all, and against the geo-political monopoly of art by the interests of the capitalist metropolis, the ‘museum of solidarity’ – self-proclaimed as such before the existence of a collection or a building to house it

  1. This essay is adapted from a paper given at the Museu de Arte de São Paulo (São Paulo Museum of Art, MASP) on 15 April 2016, commissioned by Luiza Proença. I am deeply grateful to those whose rigorous work and research made my own research possible: Carla Macchiavello; Carla Miranda; and Claudia Zaldívar, current director of the Museum of Solidarity, whose team includes Federico Brega, María José Lamaitre and Caroll Yasky. Special thanks to Virginia Vidal, agitator for the cause since the early 1970s, and a secret protagonist of this story.

  2. A conventional hanging of the Museum’s ‘key’ modern works can be hard to distinguish from that at any prestigious modern Latin American art collection.

  3. Allende’s rivals in the 1964 and 1970 elections received substantial financial ‘covert’ support from
    the CIA. Anti-Allende propaganda was spread through press articles, editorials, radio spots, pamphlets and posters. In 1964, these famously depicted child soldiers and tanks sieging the government house, thereby equating an Allende presidency to a militarised communist dictatorship. Regarding the 1964 triumph of the centre-right candidate Eduardo Frei Montalva, the US Select Committee reported: ‘The CIA regards the anti-communist scare campaign as the most effective activity undertaken by the US on behalf of the Christian Democratic candidate.’ In 1970, right-wing candidate Jorge Alessandri received CIA funding through El Mercurio and its director Agustín Edwards. See Frank Church and John Tower, ‘Covert Action in Chile 1963–1973, Staff Report of the Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities, United States, 94th Congress, 18 September 1975’, US Government Printing Offices, 1975. See also Seymour Hersh, ‘The Price of Power: Kissinger, Nixon, and Chile’, The Atlantic Monthly, vol.250, no.6, December 1982, pp.31–58.

  4. Among them, the Argentineans León Ferrari, Marta Peluffo and Luis Felipe Noé; the Uruguayans Luis Arbondo and Jorge Nieto; and the Chileans José Balmes, Juan Dávila and Luz Donoso. Many of the artists in the exhibition later donated works to the Museum of Solidarity.

  5. Homenaje al triunfo del pueblo (exh. cat), Santiago de Chile: Instituto de Extensión de Artes Plásticas, Universidad de Chile, 1970. Unless otherwise specified, all translations and emphases are my own.

  6. El pueblo tiene arte con Allende (leaflet/catalogue), Santiago: Impresora Horizonte, 1970.

  7. Joris Ivens’s 1964 film Le train de la victoire (The Victory Train) is a beautiful document of that year’s campaign. There was no train in the 1970 campaign; a small plane transported Allende through the country, but the campaign rallies did rely heavily on the cultural participation that had developed in previous campaigns. M. Casals Araya describes how the 1970 campaign perfected the ‘use of culture for the massification of the message’. See Marcelo Casals Araya, El alba de una revolución: La izquierda y el proceso de construcción estratégica de la ‘Via chilena al socialismo1956– 1970, Santiago de Chile: LOM Ediciones, 2010, p.119. For a detailed account of ‘El bus de la victoria’ (1961), see Orzen Nikola Agnic Krstulovic, Allende, El hombre y el político: (Memorias de un secretario privado), Santiago de Chile: RIL Editores, 2008.

  8. According to the testimonies of participants and artists as well as people who encountered the train at the time, from Carolina Espinosa’s documentary film El tren popular de la cultura (2010).

  9. Virginia Vidal was the only journalist who joined the trip to cover the event at the time. She provides a compelling testimony in V. Vidal, ‘El tren popular de la cultura’, El Siglo, January 2009, p.24. A parallel project was the ‘Tren de la salud’ (‘Health Train’), with travelling doctors, dentists and nurses. It has been said that Allende’s use and identification with the train system was one of the reasons the dictatorship made such efforts to dismantle the railroad circuit in Chile – despite the relevance, necessity and geographical logic of the railroad in a problematically centralised country that is basically a long narrow strip of land.

  10. Renzo Rossellini, email correspondence, January–February 2016. Rossellini’s involvement in
    Operation Truth continued his commitment to creating collaborative networks for revolutionary struggle: he was involved in the creation of Free Radios in Italy and later in Afghanistan; he also set up the San Diego Cinematográfica, an important hub for the Third World Cinema Committee (1973–74) and a point of intercontinental encounter between committed film-makers, especially Middle Eastern and Latin American.

  11. The assassination of General René Schneider on 22 October 1970 was the most well-known attempt to impede Allende from being ratified by the Congress. An interesting document in this regard is Cuban director Santiago Alvarez’s short film Cómo, porqué y para qué se mata a un general (1971). For a detailed account of US involvement, see S. Hersh, ‘The Price of Power’, op. cit.

  12. Trelles had much experience in creating networks of political and cultural solidarity. He made an immense contribution to bring together politically committed Latin American film-makers in the 1950s while living in Uruguay. He set the foundations for what became the Third World Cinematheque, in addition to his work on the regionally relevant publication Marcha.

  13. It is improbable that those involved in designing the Chilean Operation Truth were unaware of the Cuban Operation Truth, but the latter is, probably intentionally, never mentioned as a reference. It
    took place on 21 January 1959, shortly after the triumph of the revolution, and consisted of a day- long meeting of international journalists with Fidel Castro, who offered his counter-views to the international portrayal of Cuba in the media.

  14. Internally Operation Truth called for journalists to defend the revolution by getting involved in work with the people, not only in witnessing the everyday trials and struggles of shanty town dwellers and workers, but also by collaborating with them in the creation of popular ‘correspon- dents’, at the same time investigating and denouncing the thinly veiled interests involved in the ‘objective’ journalism of the reactionary media and their power connections. A major milestone on the local front was the Primera Asamblea de Periodistas de Izquierda (First Assembly of Leftist Journalists), where thorough analyses of the economic and political connections of the national press were presented and collective working strategies devised. See Punto Final, no.129, April 1971.

  15. ‘El abre lata necesario’, Revista Ahora, 27 March 1971, p.5. This description was by the person in charge of receiving the guests, named in the article only as the ‘Coordinator of the First Assembly of Leftist Journalists’.

  16. There is contradictory information about the dates, characteristics and guests of this event. I have based my data on primary sources such as a document handed out to guests and press during the event, in addition to information provided by people who attended or were involved in the organisation of Operation Truth, such as Renzo Rossellini and José Antonio Gurriarán. Other participants included Pedro Altares, Carlos Castilla del Pino, Corrado Corghi, Alberto Fillipi, Moreno Galván, Mario Gaviria, Marcella Glisenti, Claude Julien, Giorgio La Pira, Catherine Lamour, Carlo Levi, Gilles Martinet, François Mitterrand, Alfonso Sastre, Mikis Theodorakis and Father David Turoldo.

  17. ‘Operación verdad. Programa del 19 al 24 de abril, 1971’, Florence: Fondazione Giorgio La Pira, n.d.

  18. See José Antonio Gurriarán, Caerá Allende?, Barcelona: Dopesa, 1973, p.16.

  19. The conflicting stories, involving varying dates and people, respond more to the vertiginous temp- orality of Popular Unity rather than claims of authorship. The project was developed collectively from the beginning and all those involved were deeply invested in its conceptualisation and reali- sation. See Moreno Galván, document B.1.b0020; as well as recorded interviews with José Balmes, Miguel Rojas Mix, Archivo Museo de la Solidaridad Salvador Allende, Santiago (MSSA Archive).

  20. Thanks to Carolina Olmedo Carrasco for sharing with me a transcription of this letter, currently at the Archivo José María Moreno Galván, Centro de Documentación, Museo Nacional Centro de Reina Sofía, Madrid.

  21. When the museum became the International Resistance Museum, Carmen Waugh – in exile – shared her flat in Madrid with around 300 works she had helped bring together. After the dictatorship, she became a director of the Museum of Solidarity (1991–2005).

  22. The official committee members were Rafael Alberti, Louis Aragón, Giulio Carlo Argan, Dore Ashton, Eduard de Wilde, Carlo Levi (who was a part of Operation Truth), Jean Leymarie, José María Moreno Galván, Aldo Pellegrini (a prominent Argentinian critic living in Chile at the time and also part of the IAL staff), Mariano Rodríguez and Juliusz Starzynski. In 1972, Harald Szeeman and Sir Roland Penrose would also contribute.

  23. Pedrosa arrived in Chile in October 1970, as part of a growing population of Brazilians in exile that included Paulo Freire among many others. This was after spending three months in the Chilean consulate in Rio de Janeiro, waiting for asylum after having fled the ‘preventive’ prison ordered by the dictatorial regime in Brazil. In Chile, he was invited by Rojas-Mix to form part of the IAL. I thank Bel Pedrosa for providing me with this information.

  24. ‘Declaración Necesaria del Comité Internacional de Solidaridad Artistica por Chile, noviembre 1971’ (facsimile), in Claudia Zaldívar (ed.), 40 años Museo de la Solidaridad por Chile: fraternidad, arte y política, 1971–1973, Santiago de Chile: Museo de la Solidaridad Salvador Allende, 2013, pp.15–17. Apart from the statements within quotation marks, the extract here paraphrases the original.

  25. What remains is a draft of a letter to Picasso, as well as detailed notes on how to transport Guernica safely to Santiago. See ‘Proyecto de carta a Picasso’, July 1972, MSSA Archive. A similar logic was exercised by the Art Workers’ Coalition in the 1970 action involving Guernica as a counter-point to the explicit anti-Vietnam war poster And Babies (1969). On the latter, see Julia Bryan-Wilson, Art Workers: Radical Practice in the Vietnam War Era, Berkeley: University of California Press, 2009.

  26. Letter to Dore Ashton, June 1972. Quoted in Carla Macchiavelo, ‘Una bandera es una trama’, in Claudia Zaldívar (ed.), 40 años Museo de la Solidaridad por Chile, op. cit., p.41.

  27. M. Pedrosa, letter to D. Ashton, 9 January 1972, MSSA Archive.

  28. Dore Ashton quite bluntly affirmed that she did not accept ‘minor works’: they had to be relevant works and this frequently meant studio visits and continued conversations. Pedrosa’s correspondence is clearly just as careful and attentive to detail in relation to the discussions around the works to be donated. See the interview with Ashton in C. Zaldívar (ed.), 40 años Museo de la Solidaridad por Chile, op. cit.

  29. M. Pedrosa, letter to Hélio Oiticica, 9 June 1972, MSSA Archive.

  30. These discussions are attested to in much of Mário Pedrosa’s correspondence at the time, where he
    mentions a proposal to Ferreira Gular to install his ‘poema enterrado’ (buried poem) as well as an invitation to Hélio Oiticica to realise an ‘experiencia’ on the future site of the Museum. See MSSA Archive. Regarding Pedrosa’s role and vision for the Museum of Solidarity, see María Berríos, ‘Por el futuro artístico del mundo’, in Gabriel Pérez Barreiro and Michelle Sommer (ed.), Mário Pedrosa. De la naturaleza afectiva de la forma, Madrid: Museo Nacional Centro de Reina Sofía, 2017, pp.86–101.

  31. The plans for an exhibition in the El Teniente copper mine, which had just been expropriated for
    nationalisation by the US company Kennecott, were highly advanced, but there are no traces of it ever taking place. It is probable that such an exhibition was impeded by the urgent situation that arose due to the right-wing-supported strike in the mine, initiated in late April 1972, with devas- tating economic consequences for the government.

  32. M. Pedrosa, letter to Eduard de Wilde, 10 January 1972, MSSA Archive.

  33. ‘Beautiful Chaos’ is what Ernani Maria Fiori believed a learning institution should be. Fiori was, like Pedrosa, a Brazilian exile in Chile. He was briefly vice chancellor of the Catholic University in Santiago, the first after the implementation of the 1967 University Reform. Quoted in Carla Rivera, ‘La construcción de un campo de saber’, doctoral thesis in history, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile.

  34. Regarding this period, which surpasses the aims and limits of this essay, see Caroll Yasky and Claudia Zaldívar (ed.), Museo Internacional de la Resistencia Salvador Allende, MIRSA 1975–1990, Santiago de Chile: Museo de la Solidaridad Salvador Allende, 2016.

  35. The Chileans involved include José Balmes, Gracia Barrios and Guillermo Nuñez, among others. They were mainly active between 1974–78. See J. Balmes, ‘Las brigadas muralistas en europa’, in Eduardo Castillo (ed.), Puño y letra: movimiento social y comunicación gráfica en Chile, Santiago de Chile: Ocho Libros, 2006, p.144.

  36. To a lesser degree, it was also used as a fundraising campaign for the resistance to the dictatorship. This aspect was more polemical, as it was not clear to which specific organisations the monies raised should be given. Also, many artists and some of the organisers were not in agreement about artworks being sold. In any case, the donators usually specified if they allowed the works to be sold.

  37. According to testimonies of former cultural ‘officials’ of the dictatorship. See Claudia Zaldívar, ‘Museo de la Solidaridad’, thesis in art history, University of Chile, 1992.