Beatriz González

Interior Decoration

1981

On display at Tate Modern

Artist
Beatriz González born 1938
Original title
Decoración de Interiores
Medium
Screenprint on fabric
Dimensions
Support: 2690 x 19580 mm
Collection
Lent by the Tate Americas Foundation, courtesy of the Latin American Acquisitions Committee 2015
On long term loan
Reference
L03743

Summary

This silkscreened fabric hanging is a twenty-metre section of Interior Decoration (Decoración de Interiores) 1981, Beatriz González’s first explicitly political work. Originally 140 metres wide, the curtain depicts the twenty-fifth President of Gonzalez’s native Colombia, Julio Cesar Turbay Ayala (in office from 1978 to 1982). Turbay Ayala is portrayed as he leisurely entertains a coterie of guests at a private function. The figures appear to interact, laugh, sip champagne and sing, their bodies forming a repeating pattern in orange, green and brown across the surface. Instead of showing the violence perpetrated by his government, which included arbitrary detentions and torture, Gonzalez chose to depict Turbay Ayala in a festive mode, apparently unperturbed by the atrocities of his governmental policy and untouched by the concerns of the Colombian people. The artist’s use of the curtain and palette of muted, fashionable colours suggests the everyday concealment of this violence behind a façade of glamour.

To produce this work González systematically collected images featuring the statesman outside official functions from popular magazines and newspapers; these included pictures of him drinking, mingling, dancing and going from party to party. She then chose an image and mechanically transferred the photograph onto a sheet of paper, reworking it with coloured pencils and tempera. González’s use of found images is a central part of her practice. She had previously used this technique in earlier furniture pieces, such as The Last Table 1970 (Tate L02854), in which the artist displayed a reproduction of Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper on a coffee-table to comment ironically on the mass commercialised distribution of images. Both works also made use of elements from domestic settings, highlighting the extension of politics into the home. Furthermore Interior Decoration was treated as a marketable consumer item that could be purchased by the metre. González’s repetition and standardisation of Turbay Ayala’s image into a pattern like any other, could therefore be seen as a critical denunciation of the political regime, blowing up and making kitsch an otherwise disposable gossip-column image. Her aim was to reveal Turbay Ayala as a grotesque character, both as an immoral perpetrator of violence and a rampant socialite.

González began by producing a small prototype for Interior Decoration. With this she approached Victor Alfándari, the owner of a textile factory, where she hoped the full length of the curtain could be produced. Unlike other factory owners who had been unsympathetic towards González’s project or reluctant to participate, Alfándari immediately grasped the political weight of the project, as the artist has recalled:

When I arrived to this one [Alfándari’s factory], he asked me to wait a minute. He left and came back with a letter. It was a sort of memorial by the society of Cucuta repudiating Turbay because he had danced ‘el polvorete’ [a popular Colombian song], because he had sipped champagne from his lover’s shoe, because he had jumped in a pool with his tuxedo on. His behaviour was grotesque. Mr Alfándari said he would gladly print my curtain, and free of charge.
(Unpublished artist’s statement supplied by Casas Reigner, Bogotá, Colombia, unpaginated.)

The fabric, which consisted of a relentless repetition of González’s transcription of the magazine picture of Turbay Ayala, was silkscreened in two versions: one in colour and one in black and white. When the curtain was first displayed at the Galería Garcés Velásquez in Bogotà in 1981 the coloured version of the curtain was hung along one wall, while the black and white version ran along the opposite wall. Facing each other, they were a double reminder of the vacuity of Turbay Ayala’s persona. Tate’s twenty-metre-long section is cut from the coloured version of the curtain.

In Interior Decoration the President’s image is relegated to the status of utilitarian, domestic decoration. Likening it to a shower curtain, González also gave her curtain a metaphorical impact, suggesting that the institutional curtain of Turbay Ayala’s government concealed something corrupt and sinister that needed to be swept aside in order to restore peace and clarity. González’s work presents an ironic, modern day twist on the role of court painter; the artist depicted the powerful leader of her country yet undermined his authority. As such the spectacle of leadership is both hidden and revealed by this stage curtain of sorts.

Further reading
Benjamín Villegas, Beatriz González, Bogotá 2005.

Flavia Frigeri
November 2014

Display caption

Images from the popular press of the then-president of Colombia enjoying himself at parties were the starting point for this work. Apparently oblivious to the violence perpetrated by his government – which included arbitrary detentions and torture – Julio César Turbay Ayala was regularly pictured enthusiastically drinking, mingling and dancing. González translated this imagery into a repeating pattern, collaborating with a textile factory to produce 140 metres of curtain fabric which was then sold off by the metre. The work becomes both a marketable commodity and a metaphor for corruption hiding behind the ‘curtain’ of public image.

Gallery label, February 2016