CARACAS – Once-affluent Venezuela was a magnet for immigrants from southern Europe in the 1950s, and its capital at that time served as a canvas for avant-garde artists and architects who filled its streets with mosaics, sculptures and buildings.
But now those previous expressions have given way to a new emphasis on graffiti, some with real artistic merit but the majority of it serving only as a vehicle for political ideas.
One artist who arrived as part of a now-decades-old migrant wave was Ennio Tamiazzo (1911-1982), a native of the northern Italian province of Padua whose colorful murals, cubism, mosaics and bas-reliefs livened up Venezuela’s capital and even today give it an air of modernity.
Among his most significant works is a Picassian-like mural he created with tesseras in 1955 that is located at the entrance of the Altamira metro station and greets people from up high.
Perhaps the capital’s most locally beloved symbol is the Caracas Sphere, a giant orange ball that appears to hang in the air. A gift from Venezuelan artist Jesus-Rafael Soto (1923-2005) to the city, it is probably its most representative work of kinetic art (art from any medium that contains movement perceivable by the viewer).
But other notable examples of kinetic art also have made their mark on the city, including a pair of works by Caracas-born Carlos Cruz Diez (1923-2019).
His “Fisicromia Concavo-Convexa” is a metallic sculpture that gives the impression of embracing pedestrians crossing Plaza Venezuela, while his “Induccion Cromatica por Cambio de Frecuencia Doble Faz” rises alongside the Torre Banesco (Banesco Tower) building and appears to move as viewers shift their gaze.
Among the artistic heirs of Tamiazzo, Soto and Cruz Diez is 30-year-old Caracas native Wolfgang Salazar, who grew up surrounded by art on the city’s streets and is now making his own colorful contribution via spray can.
“When you walk on the streets, you see sculptures, a lot of examples of kinetic art, architecture, (the campus of) the Central University of Venezuela … I think it’s something that’s appealing to anyone,” said Salazar, whose artistic name is Badsura.
Among his graffiti designs is a work located just under Tamiazzo’s mural at Altamira that depicts a character from Venezuelan popular culture known “La Burriquita.”
“I combine realism, landscape (painting), vectorial elements and a little kinetic art,” Badsura said. “It’s a reflection, maybe, of my personality, or maybe of the city.”
According to the artist, people have come to identity with and feel a sense of respect for graffiti art, which is now in greater demand.
Even so, Badsura’s focus makes him an exception among most graffiti practitioners and other artists in Caracas, where political themes and messages dominate the public landscape.
The omnipresent eyes of late former president Hugo Chavez, busts of Che Guevara, sculptures of meager artistic quality honoring indigenous resistance and murals paying tribute to figures such as South American independence hero Simon Bolivar and 19th-century general Ezequiel Zamora can be found on many street corners.
Artists like Badsura still ply their trade in Caracas and strive to follow in the footsteps of the great innovators of the past century.
But with propagandistic images now ubiquitous amid Caracas’ heavily politicized climate, the inescapable conclusion is that the city’s current art output will be more ephemeral than enduring.