GlobalThe exhibition of Orozco, Siqueiros and Rivera that Salvador Allende could not...

The exhibition of Orozco, Siqueiros and Rivera that Salvador Allende could not inaugurate

In 1978, the then director of the Museum of Modern Art, Fernando Gamboa, narrated the adventures he endured to remove from Chile 90 paintings from the Carrillo Gil Collection that were going to be shown at the Museum of Fine Arts in Santiago before the Coup d’état. Because it is relevant in the current political context, Process shares with its readers the complete report published in issue 95, for analysis and discussion.

MEXICO CITY (Process).– On September 10, 1973, one day before the fascist coup in Chile, Fernando Gamboa – current director of the Museum of Modern Art – had greeted President Salvador Allende at the doors of the Palacio de la Moneda. He was going to reiterate the invitation to inaugurate an exhibition of Mexican art on the 13th at the Museum of Fine Arts in Santiago.

The president greeted him warmly and said: “Of course I will inaugurate the exhibition. It is about Mexico and, for that reason alone, I will be there.”

Less than 24 hours later, Salvador Allende was murdered in his office in La Moneda. The exhibition never opened and Fernando Gamboa was barely able to save the ninety paintings from the Carrillo Gil Collection – Orozco, Siqueiros and Rivera – that were part of the exhibition from being machine-gunned.

An exhibition of crafts and some five thousand volumes of books published by Mexican publishers were lost forever.

Fernando Gamboa at the Museum of Modern Art. Photography: Rogelio Cuéllar / Process Archive.

Fernando Gamboa remained in Santiago from September 8 to 27, the day he managed to board a Mexican plane along with his valuable artistic cargo, after endless adventures during the bloody days of the coup that brought General Pinochet to power.

In his office at the Museum, in Chapultepec, Gamboa remembers that he had traveled together with the Carrillo Gil Collection, from Moscow to Santiago, on an Aeroflot plane.

The exhibition was installed by Gamboa himself and was ready to be opened to the public in the Santiago museum, then directed by maestro Nemesio Antúnez. In other rooms of the same premises the crafts and books were placed.

On the night of September 10, Gamboa retired early to his room on the seventh floor of the Hotel Carrera, very close to the Palacio de la Moneda. He was part of a cultural mission, headed by Ambassador Jesús Cabrera Muñoz Ledo, Undersecretary of Foreign Affairs, and to which Juan Pellicer belonged. An anthropologist and three representatives from Conacyt completed the group.

The roar of the tanks that surrounded the Palacio de la Moneda and that of the jet planes in low flights woke up Gamboa and the entire Mexican delegation in the early hours of the eleventh. They tried to half-open the blinds in Gamboa’s room, where everyone had gathered, and the response was a burst of machine gun fire that embedded itself in the ceiling of the room. “Cabrera keeps a bullet as a souvenir,” comments the Mexican museographer.

A few moments later they observed, through the broken blinds, how the Palacio de la Moneda was bombed by Air Force planes, which with millimeter precision dropped incendiary projectiles on the façade. The Presidential Palace, where Allende was located, began to burn. The rebellion was at its peak.

“The collection, we have to save the collection,” was Gamboa’s initial reaction. And he launched himself towards the elevators. Alarmed, the hotel guests took refuge in the lobby, but the main exit was occupied by soldiers armed with machine guns. The museographer tried to assert his diplomatic passport, but the response was blunt: “No one leaves here!” She made a second attempt to leave through the back door, but she was also watched by the military.

They remained cloistered, along with all the guests, from Tuesday to Friday the 14th. A collective kitchen was organized in the basement of the hotel, where the besieged received sandwiches and glasses of milk. Gonzalo Martínez Corbalá, Mexican ambassador to the Allende government, telephoned the hotel several times to speak with Cabrera Muñoz Ledo.

It can be said that Gamboa was a veteran in similar battles. In 1948, on the occasion of the Conference of American Foreign Ministers, which was held in Bogotá, he participated in a dramatic episode: he personally saved a collection of Mexican art that was exhibited in the Communications Palace, which had caught fire during the “Bogotazo.” bloody riot that broke out in the Colombian capital.

Finally, on Friday, September 14, at noon, guests who had diplomatic passports were authorized to leave. The streets of Santiago were deserted. The Palacio de la Moneda had been covered with a wooden lattice to prevent the damage caused by the bombs from being seen. The premises of the political parties and union centers had also been machine-gunned.

Accompanied by Nemesio Antúnez, Gamboa toured part of Santiago and went to the Museum of Fine Arts. The collection of paintings was intact. Immediately, with the help of museum staff, he proceeded to pack them into their wooden boxes.

A day later, however, Antúnez woke him up at his hotel to inform him that the museum had been machine-gunned. The bullet impacts could be seen on the walls where the paintings had been hung, some of the wooden boxes were pierced by the projectiles, but no work of art was damaged. Gamboa intensified his efforts to obtain clearance for the collection, but the military bureaucracy seemed insurmountable.

Finally, the military junta appointed a commission of low-ranking officers whose mission was to inspect the artistic shipment. Gamboa had to open all the wooden boxes so that the military could verify that they were paintings. He recalls the total ignorance of the members of the commission in artistic matters.

In front of one of the paintings from Rivera’s Cubist era, one of the officers commented: “What is this? What an ugly thing!”

The museographer obtained safe passage for the Carrillo Gil collection on September 23, but was not able to leave until the 27th. All the Mexican planes left full of exiles. Finally, an Aeroméxico DC-10 took him to the country’s capital, on a non-stop flight.

Report published on September 9, 1978 in issue 95 of the magazine Process whose digital edition you can purchase at this link.

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