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YOUAH Home » Magazine » Great Masters » NEMESIO ANTUNEZ, Chile
Monday, 30 Mar 2020


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85rf1Nemesio Antúnez , the painter of optimism and joy excelled in infusing life in his artwork; he also stood out in his role as public officer who generously broadcasted the works of other artists.

“I first met Nemesio green; then I saw him checkered  and we became good friends with him in blue. When he was in yellow, I went abroad, and on my return when we embraced at the Santiago railway station, he was in purple...'', wrote Pablo Neruda who regarded Nemesio Antúnez  as “my country’s favorite painter”.85rf2


The poet was not very far from the truth, because Antúnez was and is one of the most renowned and respected artists of Chile.  Such recognition is for the painter, the engraver – the founder of art institutions, such as  the famous Workshop 99 –   two times director of the National Museum of Fine Arts, the host of one of the very few plastic art programs of the Chilean televison: Eye with the Art (Ojo con el arte).  All this in addition to his incursions into other creative realms, as for instance his participation in movies: Costa Gavras’ “State of Siège” (1972) and Percy Mattas’  ''The Transplanted”, (France, 1975).


In the course of his extensive career he also served as  Cultural Attaché of Chile in the United States, where he not only showed Chilean art production but also that of all Latin America. In New York he directed a weekly radio program to which he invited artists from all over the Region: The Colombian Fernando Botero; the Chilean artists Roberto Matta, Claudio Arrau, and his friend Pablo Neruda, the poet and Nobel Prize in Literature.


85rf9Antúnez was a quite a personage. Tall, gaunt facial structure, big hands, and deep eyes; an affable and congenial conversationalist; once he was proclaimed presidential candidate of Chile, an anecdote he loved to remember.  During the last months of the military government, a group of Chilean opponents met in the Argentinian city of Mendoza for a street demonstration to display their opinion  that one of them, that is, Nemesio Antúnez had the necessary attributes to be the first democratic president of Chile after such a long period of authoritarism.  They carried Nemesio on shoulders who attired with a  simulated presidential sash laughingly waved at the onlookers displaying his other distinctive feature, his sense of humor.


Although this invitation never materialized, Antúnez headed the National Museum of Fine Arts, that throve under his management. In the course of the first period, under the Eduardo Frei and Allende administrations, during which he set up the large Matta salon, while the number of yearly art exhibitions grew in 1972 to the staggering total of 52. But all this came to an end in the wake of the military coup of 1973.

In 1990, he inaugurated his second administrative period with the large exhibition “Open Museum”:  He invited all resident artists to exhibit one of their artworks, a kind of vindication of all the prominent or emerging persons who had been deprived  of space during the military régime.  He continued working  during a couple of years until he became seriously ill and ultimately died.

Nemesio Antúnez  i s absolutely distinctive.  Domestic, national and monothematic topics characterize his paintings and engravings of bycycles, kites, stones and volcanoes, skyscrapers and multitudes.  Later on, tangos and entwined couples; beds he began in the 70’s and continued painting  during his auto-exile in Europe and his homecoming to Chile. He used a few wwords only to explain the reason of this latter one: “We have have been in bed one third of our lifes; we were born and die in bed; we dream and make love in bed;  it shelters us when we are ailing … Definitely, how important is the bed!''.

According to Milan Ivelic, now director of the National Museum of Fine Arts, Nemesio Antúnez was an aestheticist of optimism, ergo his kites and bycycles, but his artworks also reflect the painful times he endured. ''Since his auto-exile, for years, his production becomes beclouded, his colors dim,  his brushstroke is stirred up and contrary to past times when his colors were keyed in at the highest timbre, arranged at their highest color planes,  his palette reduces itself to grays and blacks, deep blues, and nosediving kites. His pain was the pain of many others”, commented Ivelic in Patricia Verdugo’s book ''Conversations with Nemesio Antúnez''.

This was the publication in which the artist,  who during many years sacrificed his passion for painting to show the works of others,  explained that his work was autobiographic, because he couldn’t paint the clouds not being down-to-earth:  ''We have to set out from reality and experienced emotion,and  to remain in them.  The picture then exteriorizes that emotion. That is the artist’s objective.  The artist in each canvas has a new life, an adventure in which he reaches a higher integration. This is how one integrates life or death” .

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