An Enduring Friendship

July 2, 2014

The foundation of the Royal Academy of Arts nearly 250 years ago was a manifestation of the deep-seated Enlightenment ideals that have informed England’s attitudes about government, education and culture since the seventeenth century. The Royal Academy has always sought to champion and disseminate domestic and international cultural ideas and practices. The Colección Patricia Phelps de Cisneros is very pleased to be able to collaborate with an institution whose mission to create bridges of communication and understanding is so in tune with our own aspirations.

In considering Radical Geometry ’s presence in London, it seems that this exhibition belongs to a long tradition: for over two hundred years, the city has been a destination, refuge and inspiration for Latin Americans. The Venezuelan Francisco de Miranda resided in London at various times beginning in 1785, finding it a hospitable base of operations from which he could effectively campaign for the freedom and independence of South America. It was in Miranda’s house on Grafton Street (now Grafton Way) where the first Venezuelan diplomatic entourage, comprising Simón Bolívar, his former tutor Andrés Bello and the diplomat Luis López Méndez, stayed upon their arrival in London in 1810. Miranda soon departed with Bolívar to return to Venezuela, but Andrés Bello was to remain for nineteen years, continuing to work tirelessly for the cause of independence through studying, writing and publishing.

The freedom of press enjoyed and exercised by England’s citizens was a source of amazement and encouragement for all of the Latin American exiles living in London, many of whom published texts in support of South America’s liberty. A few examples must suffice in this brief essay: at the urging of his friend James Mill, Andrés Bello produced reports to counteract Spanish propaganda against the South American revolutionaries; Luis López Méndez had the support of William Walton and the Morning Chronicle to publish pro-independence articles; and it was from London that the Brazilian Hipólito José da Costa wrote, published and smuggled into Brazil his enormously influential monthly newspaper Correio brasiliense in which he reported on world events, advocated independence for Brazil and freedom of the press, and expressed his opposition to slavery.

All of these men studied and translated the writings of innovative British thinkers such as John Locke, Jeremy Bentham and the educator Joseph Lancaster, and spent time in the company of notable Englishmen of the day. Simón Bolívar’s teachers – the aforementioned Bello as well as Bolívar’s first tutor, Simón Rodríguez – were widely read and well-travelled, and passed their erudition on to their attentive pupil.

This has not been intended as a lesson in Latin American history, but a brief attempt to trace some of the enduring sympathies between England and the countries of Latin America. The British love of freedom of the press has always enabled the unrestricted exchange of ideas and culture; the evidence continues to this day. Looking back half a century, the Signals gallery, founded in London by David Medalla and Paul Keeler, was one of the first champions of the works of Sérgio de Camargo, Lygia Clark, Alejandro Otero, Mira Schendel and Jesús Soto, many of whom are featured in this exhibition. The gallery, along with the Signals magazine, had a tremendous impact in its two years of operation. More recently, the University of Essex and Tate have been instrumental in creating opportunities for Latin American art to be better appreciated and understood. And on a personal note, I would like to mention that two of our young grandchildren are the son and daughter of a Venezuelan mother and an English father, representing a particularly sweet alliance between our nations.

I would like to thank the Royal Academy’s President, Christopher Le Brun, for his enthusiasm and assistance in making this show possible; Kathleen Soriano, the former Director of Exhibitions, for the keen insights and expertise she brought to bear in its conceptualisation; and the Royal Academy’s curator, Dr. Adrian Locke, an alumnus of the University of Essex with a distinguished curatorial history in art from Latin America, whose formidable experience and encyclopaedic intellect ensured the excellence of this exhibition. I am grateful to the CPPC’s Director, and co-curator of Radical Geometry, Dr Gabriel Pérez-Barreiro, for his brilliance in seeking out innovative ways of furthering the CPPC’s mission to foster international dialogue about Latin American art and ideas. As ever, my most profound gratitude goes to my husband, Gustavo Cisneros, who has always been my strongest supporter and my inspiration for our expansive vision for the collection and for Latin America.

 

* Originally published in the catalogue for Radical Geometry: Modern Art of South America from the Patricia Phelps de Cisneros Collection