Carlos Valenti

Carlos Valenti: Colección Dr. Manuel Morales
Casa M.I.M.A., 8a. Avenida 14-12, Zona 1, Guatemala City
23 April – 16 June 2001

Carlos Valenti, obra y vida.
Rosina Cazali, General Editor.
Guatemala: Ediciones Dr. Manuel Morales, 2000. 60 pages.
ISBN: none.

Carlos Valenti (1888-1912) is a figure of great mythic proportions in Guatemala. The painter’s friendship with Carlos Mérida and his suicide at age 24 in Paris make for a good story. Works by Valenti are rare, and few of them are on public view. The one major collection in the country is that of Dr. Manuel Morales, and the core of his holdings are currently on exhibit at Casa M.I.M.A. in the Centro Histórico. To mark the event, the Morales family has underwritten the publication of a catalog.

Carlos Valenti, obra y vida is an important contribution to art literature in Guatemala. It is not a lengthy book, but the essays by Luis Villacorta, Silvia Lanuza, Rosina Cazali, and Guillermo Monsanto are well-written and to the point, and the photography by Daniel Chauche is first-rate. Villacorta provides background information on Morales (1874-1969) and the collection. As physician to the Valenti family, Morales has ready access to the emerging artist and his work. These early acquisitions become the principal loans for a show at the Academia Nacional de Bellas Artes following Valenti’s death. Lanuza’s contribution is a biographical sketch. Besides highlighting crucial dates and events, she points to Valenti’s diabetes as leading to depression and loss of sight — eventually causing the artist to shoot himself. Cazali focuses on Valenti’s legacy and his unfinished body of work. She dismisses drawings or prints based on a European model, as well as Impressionist-like landscapes. Her preference is to take a more thematic approach. Monsanto’s cronología narrada is a history of Guatemala City and its monuments during Valenti’s lifetime.

The breadth of the Morales Collection is made clear by the plates and illustrations. Its assets are a testament to a career cut short. Among these treasures is Desnudo de niña, an unconventional portrait for its underlying sensuality. The work is Valenti’s challenge to a prevailing genre. His concern is with shape, light, and color — and not with the female figure itself. There is no primness. Honesty and clarity evoke an atmosphere of intimacy in the composition.

Both the exhibition and catalog introduce Carlos Valenti to a new generation. Lanuza admits to Valenti not being a familiar household name. To Cazali, society has long snubbed and neglected the artist for taking his own life. Monsanto sees in Valenti the stuff of legends. All three writers agree on one thing: Valenti is an important figure in 20th-century art in Guatemala.

The Morales Collection has suffered much damage over the years, but many of the artworks have been restored recently for the current show. Casa M.I.M.A. offers a unique opportunity to view them and to acquire the catalog. Anything related to Carlos Valenti is scarce and is not to be missed by a new and appreciative audience.