The National Salon of Visual Arts is a national institution in Argentina. For over a century, artists have anonymously applied with their portfolios hoping to win the grand prizes on offer, which would deliver them prestige and honour, as well as money, in the form of a pension.
In recent years however, people in and around the Culture Ministry, who are responsible for the National Salon, have witnessed a drop off in applications from artists from the contemporary arts scene. As a result, it has became less representative of what is really happening within the local art world. And therefore, the National Salon has lost a part of its relevance, according to the Ministry’s own officials.
“Now that the Palais de Glace is reconstructing, we felt that it was a good time to revise the Salon and bring back to its stature,” said Culture Minister Pablo Avelluto last Friday, speaking in his office as he unveiled the new regulations for the competition, which have not been altered so dramatically since 1993.
“The idea is not that a young artist with one great work of art receives this assurance of a pension, while we won’t be certain whether they will continue to have a career,” explained the minister. “Prizes for trajectories have now been introduced, where artists who have contributed and left a mark on Argentine culture will be rewarded for their efforts.”
Marcelo Panozzo, national cultural patrimony secretary, elaborated on the importance of a fairer division of the National Salon’s prizes throughout the country, saying that 80 percent of prizes had been won by artists from Buenos Aires City. Avelluto complemented this with own statistic indicating the paucity of women who had won prizes since the National Salon first began in 1911: “Only five women have won the Grand Prize for painting in over a century! Did you know that?”
All present nod, the statistic has been made public recently by art historian and scholar Andrea Giunta. “Well, it’s a scandal!”, the minister cried out, “and not of our time!”
The new rules are being changed so they are fairer and more up to date, representative, with the intention to attracting more artists and mirrorring what is actually happening in the art scene. But will it be difficult to guarantee an equal representation of age, location and gender? Is gender parity set in stone in the regulations?
“We strive for parity, but it will be a decision by the jury in the end, who will find this intention in the regulations,” Panozzo replies. So equality is not guaranteed? “We would like it to be more even, but if it’s 60-40, it is also nearing parity,” responds Avelluto. “We have been listening to the opinions out there. We have talked with organisations and associations of the arts. With regards to the gender balance, we have been in touch with [arts movement] Nosotras Proponemos, which is why we are taking this very seriously and have put it into the regulations.”
Nosotras Proponemos, an association of women workers in the arts, has circulated a four-point pamphlet on social media proposing recommendations for changing the National Salon’s regulations, in order for female artists to be as equally rewarded as their male counterparts. They also wrote a letter to the culture minister and his team, which was in turn followed by an invitation to visit the Culture Ministry from officials there.
One of the group’s representatives, artist Cristina Schiavi, told the Times that she specifically asked the ministry’s officials about the equal distribution of the awards. “Marcelo Panozzo couldn’t guarantee it,” she said. “An equal division of the prizes is not going to be part of the regulations, only their intention. We will just have to see how it goes this year. We were promised that if it still needed to change next year, we would continue talking.”
Schiavi remains hopeful. “It is good to know that these regulations are not static. I have a good hope that this year’s Salon will be better than before. We will have to await the results. The intention is there though,” she added, with a smile.