You must be a shrewd guy when you are a local hero in Medellin and a national hero in Bogota. But then again Fernando Botero is probably Colombia’s most important artist, his style recognized all over the world. And there is no marketing behind his form of art, known as Boterismo. ‘Artists tend to find a form they like without knowing why, and only later try to rationalize it.’
There is an eerie sculpture of Botero in the Parque San Antonio. It is his well-known bird sculpture in bronze, but there is massive damage to it. Vandalism, you think. But on June 10, 1995 a bomb was placed in or under the sculpture and exploded in the evening during a concert.
Around 23 people died, and a link was suspected to an arrest a day earlier of a leader of the Cali drug cartel. It was one of the many acts of violence in a city that had gotten used to it. Botero decided to leave the damaged sculpture in place, as an hommage to the deceased and a permanent place of remembrance. And he donated a new one, placed twenty metres apart, to illustrate the meaningless of violence.
Botero was born in 1932 in the city but only lives one month a year there. It is still considered his hometown though, and probably the best place to start watching his artworks.
His Boterismo is known for displaying objects and especially humans in incorrect proportions. They are almost always fatter, their heads painted in a generic style. The faces of the men (small beard, small eyes) and women (fat, with small lips) are almost always the same.
Why he uses that style he can’t even explain himself, as the quote above shows. It is humorous or in some cases it is a form of political critique. Though, until he made the Abu Ghraib series in 2005, he never was overtly political.
He always has been a chronicler of Colombian life though. He paints families, still lifes and everyday scenes. The Museo Antioquia in Medellin has more than 100 paintings, personally donated by him.
There is a depiction of Jesus, depicted fatter than usually of course. And then there is The Death of Pablo Escobar. Only Botero could more or less close that chapter in national history with a painting.
But he is as much known for his sculptures, almost always in bronze. He donated two dozen to his former hometown, in front of the Museo Antioquia in what is now called Plaza Botero. Other works are nearby in Parque Berrio and in the aforementioned San Antonio park.
Medellin wasn’t the only city to receive huge donations. Bogota received 123 of his own works and 85 pieces he bought or received himself, including paintings by Picasso and Giacometti and many more.
They are on full display in the Museo Botero, part of the collection of the Banque Popular. It is a pleasant old mansion, where half of the space is dedicated to Botero’s works and half to his personal collection of work from others. Some of his work can also be seen in the Museo Nacional, a bit further northwards in the city.
After visiting these places, one thing is for sure: you will forever recognise Boterismo straightaway.
Good to know
- the Museo Antioquia and the Plaza Botero are immediately west of the Parque Berrio metro station in Medellin
- San Antonio park is 200 metres east of the metro station with the same name in Medellin
- Museo Botero is in the historic centre of Bogota
- the Museo Nacional is in the international centre of Bogota, 2-3 kilometres more north