Nicolás García Uriburu: Artist’s Collection

August 2008

At the Isaac Fernández Blanco Museum, the exhibition “Arte Popular Latinoamericano” (Latin American Popular Art), from the collection of Nicolás García Uriburu, is on display until September 14. Once again, the artist is generously offering to the public something he has been doing for 50 years: collecting Latin American art. In this interview, he tells us about the meaning of collecting Native art…

ARTE AL DÍA: Since when do you collect art? 

NICOLÁS GARCÍA URIBURU: Since I was very young. I remember going to La Rioja when I was in 3rd grade and coming back loaded with stones from an old foundry. And then, more systematically, since I was 18 years old, when I went to Peru. That was 50 years ago. 

AAD: What is your collection based on? 

NGU: My collections are based on Indigenous art from South America to promote them and to learn about their ideology, their objects. That is why I created the Nicolás García Uriburu Foundation, which is dedicated to pre-Columbian native and popular art. It covers Mexico, Peru, Bolivia and all Latin American countries. In addition, there is the collection of Amazonian feather art, textiles and ponchos, masks from all over America, and this exhibition which does not belong to the Foundation that consists of the Saints of evangelized America. It is a horrible thing that the Spanish arrived and killed 20 million Indians, of which only 120,000 remain. I present the bloody part of religion: the scourged and crucified Christs; that gratuitous idea of suffering to achieve something. I don’t understand how religion subdues people through suffering and fear. There is a whole section connected to Hell. That explains the red paint that unifies everything because it represents the blood. This is a museological aspect that was taken into account by Patricio López Méndez, who mounted this exhibition in an excellent way. 

AAD: Do you want to highlight that gory part of religion? 

NGU: Yes. These are things we have been educated in. What happened to me was that I totally believed in the religion my mother was instilling in me until I was 9 years old, when I reasoned about why I had to bear the sin of Adam and Eve. So I walked away from those kinds of religious precepts, from the idea of the suffering one has to go through this “valley of tears,” as religion says, instead of enjoying yourself. There has to be another concept. 

AAD: Your collection has a lot to do with your work, related to America. 

NGU: Yes, I believe in America as a single unit, that’s why I make the continent looking to the South, united by nature, not separated by the hand of man. 

AAD: Like your “Coloraciones Intercontinentales” (Intercontinental Colorations). 

NGU: Of course, I don’t divide them by country. I believe in the idea of a united America. The Spanish-speaking America, Ibero-America. I am interested in maps and geopolitics. And I like to bring my collections together based on the results America has had in its aesthetic creations. 

AAD: Focused on popular art. 

NGU: Yes, because it’s everyone’s art, the art of the earth. I am interested in the Indigenous world, our native world. 

AAD: It is very generous of you to hold exhibitions like this one where you display your collection. 

NGU: I think it’s essential to show the collections. The pleasure I got from putting them together I give back by showing them to people, like at the Foundation. My only wealth is what I have done with culture. When I sell a painting, I put it at the Foundation; that is my legacy. 

AAD: In this exhibition, there are very modern elements, which are very current. 

NGU: Of course. I would love to have young artists come and see, for example, the collages or the faces of virgins that seem to have been made today; they are very colorful. It’s very interesting how you can see from one century to the next that elements used in the past are still in use today. You can find things that are very contemporary.