In the Middle of Goodness and Horror: El Techo de la Ballena Collection

  • Posted on Jun 12, 2014 by

The MoMA Library recently acquired and made available a collection of materials produced by El Techo de la Ballena, an artistic and literary collective that was active from 1961 to 1969 in Venezuela.  El Techo de la Ballena, which translates to The Roof of the Whale, was an organized artistic and literary group that generated material with the goal of challenging social values during a time of political unrest in Venezuela during the 1960s.  El Techo de la Ballena published a great deal of written work and included contributors from all over the world, although most of the primary contributors were based in Venezuela.  The group acted as cultural guerillas, organizing several radical politically charged art exhibitions and events that were intended to prompt societal change.

In "¿Por qué la Ballena?" (Rayado Sobre El Techo. Vol. 3. Caracas, Venezuela: Ediciones Del Techo De La Ballena, 1964) Adriano González León explains the group's adoption of the whale:

"Why the whale? Just for that reason. It would have been easier to choose the alligator. Or because it would have been the dandy's preference to choose the seahorse. The whale is in the middle of goodness and horror, subject to all the stresses of the world and sky. From its belly, that laughs at Jonah and engulfs an oil tank, it lies extended from one to the other end of the earth, almost as wide as the earth itself  or the tiny bird pecking its decayed tooth in which fishes swims. That swim amplitude, that frantic slide, which allows us to initially refuse to answer but we ended answering, because, despite all the hatred of the inquisitor we had enough responses to annul his despicable question. That thrust into the unknown that can increase our reason to live and to contaminate the instruments of a corrosive substance that change lives and transform society."

(Translation by Sandy Sumano)

Carlos Contramaestre, Homenaje a La Necrofilia, 1962. Print. 18 1/2 in. x 26 in. El Techo De La Ballena Collection, The Museum of Modern Art Library, New York. Donated by Valentina and Ignacio Oberto in Honor of Luis Perez-Oramas in 2012.

In the early 1990s, Ignacio and Valentina Oberto, the donors of the collection, acquired an important painting by Carlos Contramaestre that was featured in the exhibition "Homenaje a la Necrofilia" (Caracas, 1962).  Ignacio Oberto contacted Contramaestre, who became instrumental in Oberto’s collection of nearly every publication produced by El Techo de la Ballena, as well as additional artwork, letters, and other related items.

The collection is comprised of 202 items housed in 33 archival boxes, and includes materials such as artwork, exhibition catalogs, posters, poetry, periodicals, postcards and mail art, photographs, correspondence, newspaper clippings, a manifesto, and ephemera.  Several of the photographs are from El Techo de la Ballena exhibition events, depicting the artists standing by their artwork, most of which have titles, dates, and names handwritten on the back.

While this unique collection is amazing on artistic and historical levels, the exquistely made custom archival boxes that houses the collection has astounded our library staff.


Note the beautiful housings. (Image by Aria Marco)

This is an exciting addition to the MoMA Library due to the excellent condition of the carefully preserved materials, as well as the number of items by and about this bold and imaginative group.  To learn more about El Techo de la Ballena, please consult the finding aid, which contains historical and biographical notes, lists of members and collaborators, a chronology of events and publications, and a detailed item-level inventory of this collection. The record for the El Techo de la Ballena Collection can be found in DADABASE, MoMA’s online catalog, and item-level cataloging is underway.

Aria Marco, M-LEAD II NYARC Intern, Pratt Institute SILS and History of Art

Sandy Sumano, Patricia Phelps de Cisneros Bibliographer for Latin America, Museum of Modern Art Library

Banner image: El Techo de la Ballena, Rayado Sobre El Techo No 2, 1963. Print. 18 1/2 in. x 26 in. El Techo De La Ballena Collection, The Museum of Modern Art Library, New York City. Donated by Valentina and Ignacio Oberto in Honor of Luis Perez-Oramas in 2012.

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