COLLAGES STOLEN FROM UNCTAD III DURING THE MILITARY COUP
by Marco Antonio Núñez (1)
The collage not only fulfills an ornamental function,
tells a story in a reflex mode of humanity ,
speaks for the mood in its colors,
your worries on your lines and
of their characters in their scraps.
The history of the Gabriela Mistral Cultural Center (GAM) begins in 1972, when Chile was chosen to host the United Nations World Trade and Development Conference ( UNCTAD III ), a historic moment that would put all eyes of the world on the city located at the foot of the Andes Mountains. This election contemplated a sociocultural and architectural challenge, since a building had to be constructed in less than 300 days. Upon completion of the UNCTAD III program, the agencies would go on to form the Chilean Institute of Culture, administered by the Ministry of Education under the name of the Gabriela Mistral Metropolitan Cultural Center, which managed to function for just over a year. This is how he became a world icon of the Popular Unity government and Salvador Allende , the world's first democratically elected socialist president.
Along with its futuristic architecture, the interior and exterior spaces drew attention for their decorations and original pieces by the most renowned artists of the moment. 35 artists invited by Eduardo Martínez Bonati participated , including Roberto Matta, José Balmes, Nemesio Antúnez, Roser Bru and Marta Colvin, to name a few. More than thirty works of different scales distributed throughout the building, dressing the conference rooms, casinos and squares.
“It was a matter of collaboration, of support for the government and the law. They were all paid the same. Manzanito, a wicker craftsman, obtained the same as a renowned artist like José Balmes. For three months, all received an honorarium equivalent to the salary paid to a qualified construction worker, which corresponded to 15,000 escudos, according to Balmes. " ( 2)
Within this catalog of works there are two that are collage in nature. The first you would find when entering the building, just before going up the imposing access staircase, there he would receive you from the front with a large Collage Tapestry (or patchwork) by the artist Lucy Rosas (1940), an outstanding engraver of the School of Fine Arts. Arts of the University of Chile. Its print shop generation stands out for its multi-edition characteristics (3) .
With vivid colors, the collage tapestry can be interpreted as a continuation of the environment that was lived in the heart of Alameda, hence its location in the Access Hall . With line patterns repeating in different directions, the sense of movement and chaos is enhanced. These lines make the eye not stop, it is forced to continue looking for a point to stop. There the traffic signs appear, like eye-movement lifeguards, indicating both directions of the road, where large pieces of buses with passengers move inside.
The second work of collage is also tapestry, by the artist Roser Bru, National Prize of Plastic Arts (2005). This was on the main level, in the Delegates' Hall Hall. It consisted of a series of 4 patchworks of bright colors , fuchsia, yellow, red, vermilion and more. The first three on the left, measure approximately 2 meters long by 1 meter and 1 1/2 wide, accompanied by another patchwork 2 meters long by 2 1/2 meters wide, that is, they occupied an extensive wall of head to toe.
The motifs correspond to anthropomorphic figures, this means that they look like human figures. The violet, yellow and brown bodies intertwine from one collage to the other. First appears "The Man" holding a stick and looking straight ahead, paused. In the background it has a calm landscape, divided into two blocks, these could be interpreted as a worked field, if so, the rod would gain value as a work tool, of the man who works the land to sow.
"El Hombre" is the only collage that contains the artist's signature: BRU, also armed with scraps of fabric.
Then he continues with “La mujer” which, with a large silhouette, continues with the same background but this time with a different color, if in the previous work the lower strip is earth-colored, in La Mujer the color is burgundy, matching the orange and vermilion shadows of the female silhouette. Could it be that the interior of the silhouette is a nod to the Catalan flag? It is worth mentioning that the author Roser Bru lived in exile due to the Spanish civil war, arriving in Chile through Winnipeg in 1939.
Next is the patchwork "Untitled" , this time there is no figure in the foreground, but rather represents a landscape. A cloud made of different pieces crowns the sky above the strip of land and the lines that the previous silhouettes have prepared.
To close the series of collage works, “La Familia” appears, a work of 220 x 261 cms. Numerous anthropomorphic figures are linked in a great embrace, holding their arms on the shoulder of the person who is little below. Pregnancy and childhood are present in the figure that encloses a circle. The warm atmosphere of the family that takes this wall seems to reflect the atmosphere of celebration and collaboration that was proposed to carry out during the Popular Unity.
This family-friendly, bright, art-filled environment for the community and with an auspicious future to house the culture of the capital, it collapsed resoundingly on September 11, 1973, with the coup led by Augusto Pinochet Ugarte. In an almost immediate act, the building was occupied by the military forces and the Military Government Junta , because they had to choose a place from which to manage the country, since the Palacio De la Moneda, the government house, was disabled because of the bombing and subsequent fire.
From cultural center to operations control tower. By decree of law, it even changes its name to the Diego Portales Building.
In this period, all works of art were adrift. With the military in power there was no guarantee of their protection. Famous is the episode in a square near the UNCTAD III building, in Diagonal Paraguay with Marcoleta streets, the moment when the military burned cubism books because they believed it was talking about the island of Cuba and indoctrinating an imminent communism. And so it was, many works were modified or deteriorated. Some were simply stolen, including the entire collage tapestry work.
Currently the collage work by Lucy Rosas is missing.
Roser Bru's collage or patchwork have a mysterious history that has not yet revealed all the pieces of the puzzle.
How many know that those patchwork disappeared after the coup? How many know that they appear mysteriously 40 years later? These are the questions that Amalá Saint-Pierre , Roser Bru's granddaughter, comes to install in the biodrama BRU, OR THE EXILE OF MEMORY . Research and staging work by the MakinaDos collective, who premiered in the same building from which the works were stolen (today called the Gabriela Mistral Cultural Center, GAM).
Of the original four-piece series, three appear: "The Man" "The Woman" and "The Family." A researcher and art collector finds the whereabouts of these great works. They were for sale and in very bad condition. It is not known if the owner was involved in the theft of the works from the building where they were installed, there is no evidence, there are no responsible parties .
Due to the materiality of the work, it was very easy to mistake it for a cloth. You cannot hide a work of this size without having to fold it or give it another use. This is how it deteriorated to the point that it ended up dumped in a chicken coop , eaten by moths, covered with animal feces and with missing pieces.
There is a theory that whoever originally stole the works (it is suspected that it was the military themselves) pawned them, in order to erase all intellectual property records, preventing the traceability and monitoring of the work so that someone with the location of the collage out and buy it.
Decades later, in 2000, an art collector tracked down three of the four missing patchworks, bought them, and restored them.
The work is currently protected by the collector as a temporary depository. Since then, it has seen the light of day on two occasions: in 2017 for the exhibition of 4 National Awards: José Balmes, Gracia Barrios, Roser Bru and Guillermo Núñez at the National Museum of Fine Arts , by the hand of the curator Inés Ortega-Márquez and 2019 for the exhibition Social fabric: Textile art and political commitment organized by the Salvador Allende Solidarity Museum , by the curator Josefina de la Maza.
The current state of Roser Bru's works raises questions of a political and ethical nature . Who should recover these works? Where should they be displayed? When will it be the heritage of all Chileans again? And with regard to the lost collage of Lucy Rosas, is it hidden to appear mysteriously? Has it been destroyed?
The collage not only fulfills an ornamental function, it tells a story in a reflection mode of humanity , it speaks by mood in its colors, its concerns in its lines and its characters in its fragments. Roser and Lucy darned these patchwork for the Chilean people. We hope that soon these large-scale collages full of history will be able to return to their original place.
(1) Founder Center for Collage Studies. Diploma in Art and Territorial Representation. USACH.
(2) The lost works of Diego Portales [article] [Santiago]: Qué Pasa Magazine, 2007. Qué Pasa - Year XXXVI, no. 1914 (2007: December 14), pages  -31. 9 pages: color illustrations; 27 x 21 cm.
(3) Sonia Martínez Moreno. (2015). The history of engraving in Chile: a review of the participation of Santos Chávez in the art circuit in the 1960s. August 9, 2020, from Notebooks of Cultural History.
The lost works of Diego Portales [article] [Santiago]: Qué Pasa Magazine, 2007. Qué Pasa- Year XXXVI, no. 1914 (2007: December 14), pages  -31.
Denisse Espinoza A. (2013). GAM recovers lost works of the building 40 years ago. August 19, 2020, from La Tercera Website: https://www.latercera.com/noticia/gam-recupera-obras-perdidas-del-edificio-hace-40-anos/
GAM. (-). History. August 19, 2020, from the Gabriela Mistral Cultural Center Website: https://www.gam.cl/somos/historia/
Roser Bru Foundation. (2019). 4 National Awards: Bru - Balmes - Barrios - Núñez. August 19, 2020, from Fundación Roser Bru Website: https://roserbru.cl/4-premios-nacionales-bru-balmes-barrios-nunez/
Unctad III Gabriela Mistral Building: Decorative architecture [photography] / Armindo Cardoso. Santiago de Chile: Armindo Cardoso, 1972. 1 Negative: monochrome, gelatin on cellulose acetate; 6x6 cm.
DIGITAL GAM ARCHIVE - Armindo Cardoso
Social Fabric exhibition catalog. Textile art and political commitment
Works by Roser Bru in the exhibition "Social fabric: Textile art and political commitment", at the Salvador Allende Solidarity Museum (MSSA), Santiago de Chile, 2019. Photo: Benjamín Matte / MSSA
How to quote
Nunez, MA. (2020). Collages stolen from UNCTAD III during the military coup. (retrieval date), from Centro de Estudios del Collage CECOLL Website: https://www.cecoll.com/collages-robados-unctad