The Museum of Modern Art of Bogotá

The Museum of Modern Art of Bogotá

MAMBO faces a more business stage after celebrating its 60 years

The Museum of Modern Art of Bogotá has recovered some of its former splendor with its third director, Claudia Hakim. But there is uncertainty regarding the bet on his replacement
The Museum of Modern Art of Bogotá (MAMBO) has almost always been in crisis. Founded in October 1963, during its first 16 years it did not have its own headquarters. Later, when it was established in a modern four-story building, the funds were never sufficient. Exhibitions of great local and international artists were too expensive in a country with few resources for culture. Nothing, however, compares to the situation we experienced a decade ago. There was no weight, the public was moving away from her and the director was losing the energy to continue moving forward at 80 years old. The institution was at risk of disappearing.

Everything began to change when cultural manager Claudia Hakim came to the management in 2016. With the support of her connections in the capital's high society, she stabilized the roller coaster and prevented it from derailing. She hired a new curator, renovated the building and organized fundraising galas. But now, after celebrating the museum's 60th anniversary, Hakim is leaving. MAMBO is preparing for a transformation that generates skepticism in the artistic world: it will adopt a more corporate tone with the arrival of designer Martha Ortiz Gómez, former director of the newspaper El Colombiano and member of a traditional family of businessmen and conservative politicians from Antioquia.
The origins of MAMBO in a small place on Carrera Séptima and in the National University are inseparable from Marta Traba, an Argentine critic and writer who was the first director of the museum and who revolutionized the canons of Colombian art in the 1950s and 1960s. There are those who love her and those who hate her: she was an outspoken woman who for years defined what art should be promoted and what should be marginalized. The museum contributed to more abstract and universal works that left figurative portraits and nationalist tendencies behind. With his permission, a new generation of painters emerged that included figures such as Alejandro Obregón, Enrique Grau and Fernando Botero.

Traba's administration came to an abrupt end in 1967, when she defended a student mobilization at the National University and generated the annoyance of the then president of Colombia, Carlos Lleras. She had to give up her position to Gloria Zea, a philosopher and collector with a “more business” profile, according to Jaime Iregui, editor of the Esfera Pública portal, compared by video call. “Traba was someone more of an activist, an ideologue who established modern art and her aspirations to crack the canons of the 19th century. The museum did not get its own building, but it defined who the artists to highlight were,” she highlights. Zea, on the other hand, was the daughter of a former minister, ex-wife of Fernando Botero and wife of a powerful businessman. She was also a member of the international council of the Museum of Modern Art in New York (MoMA). For Iregui, she brought connections with the economic elite and looked for “bigger and higher-grossing” exhibitions with which to show off.
Zea took the museum to times of great splendor. After a year in the Bavaria Building and another eight in the Planetarium, she inaugurated the definitive headquarters in front of the Parque de la Independencia, in the heart of Bogotá. She had managed the donation of a State lot, the design carried out by the renowned architect Rogelio Salmona and the bricks provided by the company of her husband, Andres Uribe. In these venues there were exhibitions by famous artists such as the Frenchman Auguste Rodin, the Spanish Pablo Picasso, the Swiss Alberto Giacometti, the American Alexander Calder or the Colombians Antonio Caro and Feliza Bursztyn. Spaces such as the Atenas Hall, the Bogotá Art Biennial and the Los Acevedo cinema excited young people and local artists.

Jaime Pulido, a MAMBO worker for 53 years, is the one who knows those golden eras best. Zea hired him as a bookstore assistant when he was a young man of 20 who had just arrived in Bogotá from a town in Boyacá, she promoted him in various roles linked to the preservation of the collection and sent him on some trips to train. That's why Pulido is excited when he shows Botero's work Nuestra Señora de Fátima in the Viceversa exhibition, which celebrates the museum's 60 years. He says the painting was behind Zea's desk the day she interviewed him in 1971 and that it brings back memories of those times. “They saw Gloria as someone from the upper echelons who brought an elitist proposal. But it was quite the opposite,” he defends.

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