At the beginning of January 2019, we became aware of the alarming news that the Archive of the artist Juan Carlos Romero (1931-2017) has been sold to a private collection of Latin American Art located in New York, by decision of his heirs (the widow and the descendents of Romero) and through arrangements made by the gallery owner Ricardo Ocampo.
This means that the archive will be privatized, closed down, deprived from public access and delocalised from the place where it was established, by the stubborn, lucid, persistent passion of Juan Carlos Romero, who throughout his life defended the public and open condition of his archive.
In a context in which the policies of preservation, care and appreciation of artistic and political documentation are in conditions of precariousness, abandonment and disinvestment, this huge and invaluable collection is much more than the personal archive of an artist and his work, is a generous and unparalleled registryfile of the artistic and political practices and the material culture of an important moment of the twentieth century in Argentina and Latin America.
The archive of Juan Carlos Romero is tremendously relevant not only for the history of Argentinian art, but also for the country’s political, labor union and cultural history. It includes documentary collections such as: the collection of Argentine and Latin American political posters, the CAYC fund, diverse aspects of popular culture (mate, tango, death), or the fund of labor union pamphlets, which far exceed the limits of art.
In a country like Argentina, going through a fierce economic crisis based on indebtedness, capital evasion and generalized spoliation, we repudiate the leakage of common goods and symbolic capitals. We seek that the management of economic cultural, affective and political capital, dismantle the codification between the public and the private to configure in situ, a politics of the common.
Nowadays, the forms of hoarding and accumulation are not only those of the great institutions of the global north that seek to enrich their heritage colonially. But also those of mercenaries whose purpose is to find a return to these collections, because their radar is the economic and symbolic speculation, a compass less predictable, more difficult to track and verify.
From the RedCSur (Network of Southern Conceptualisms) we have been working for years with Juan Carlos Romero, in the public access and institutionalization of the Juan Carlos Romero Archive through the constitution of a nonprofit organization, and we know that his express wish was that his Archive will not disintegrate but will become an open access collection located in Argentina.
Thus, the Juan Carlos Romero Archive was a priority project within the archives policy that RedCSur has been promoting in various parts of Latin America, such as the Clemente Padín archive in Montevideo or the CADA archive in Santiago de Chile, to mention two examples.
This alliance goes back to the RedCSur Second Meeting of (Spanish Park Cultural Center, Rosario, October 2008), when Juan Carlos Romero was invited to present his archive and it was formalized in 2011, when RedCSur began formally working on the constitution of the nonprofit organization that laid the foundations of the archive, and in the inventory and moving of objects and documents to the space that Juan Carlos himself assigned to that end.
Continuing with a work of institutional experimentation, the proposal was to create a common working alliance with other institutions, such as the Museo Reina Sofía and the National University of Tres de Febrero, which were integrated into the project when in 2014 it was formalized a quadripartite collaboration agreement (between the nonprofit organization Juan Carlos Romero Artists Archive, the RedCSur , the MNCARS and the UNTREF), in order to create a joint initiative that would allow the promotion of a framework for safeguarding, preserving and activating the archive based on an ethical agreement: the defense of the integrity of the archive, its public and accessible condition, its location in the context where it’s practices occurred.
In 2014, the principal space of the Juan Carlos Romero Artists Archive nonprofit organization was opened in Santiago del Estero 443, City of Buenos Aires, to house the archive and become a space for consultation and research. Unlike other archives initiatives promoted by the RedCSur, the Romero Archive had its own space, which made possible it’s independence from the different institutions involved in the project (allowing an own particular criteria of cataloging, inventory and systematization of the material, among other issues).
This opened the possibility for the Romero Archive to be considered as a unique experience, to try out projects with greater institutional autonomy and it was proposed to host other artists archives in its space. This characteristic was even present in the name itself as the nonprofit organization Juan Carlos Romero, which is presented as an «Artists Archive». During these years, RedCSur also worked on the cataloging and open access to different areas of the Romero Archive, including the Political Graphic Collection (composed of more than 2000 posters and available at: http://archivosenuso.org/romero/cronologico) and part of his personal archive.
We call upon the artistic and cultural community, the different archive initiatives, the artistic institutions and universities, the civil society, to pronounce themselves and repudiate the sale and privatization of the Juan Carlos Romero Archive, because this valuable public patrimony remains in private hands, delocalised, inscribed in the logic of an «art collection» and subject to dispersion and inaccessibility.
We demand that those responsible for the sale of the Juan Carlos Romero Archive make public the conditions of sale of a collection from which, to date, there is no complete inventory. The file was removed from the house in Santiago del Estero where he was based. We need to know where it is located, what is its current state of preservation, if it has been maintained as an indivisible archive, as established by the nonprofit organization that protected it during the last years.
We appeal for the intervention of the Argentine State through the protection of cultural heritage, to ensure that the archive remains in the country. At the same time, we call upon institutions and public archives that are disputing the memory and the left wing culture, beyond the nowadays governments, to generate conditions of institutionality that allow the archive to be accepted and to claim their constitution as a public heritage.
We propose that the Juan Carlos Romero Archive be declared a cultural heritage, considering its important documentary value in relation to the political and artistic processes of the 20th century in Argentina and Latin America. Likewise, we commit ourselves from the RedCSur to collaborate actively in:
- Continue the processes of cataloging / digitalizing areas of the archive and to work on its public access through the website archivos en uso.
- Manage funds to sustain projects for the archive until it’s institutionalization in Argentina is achieved.
- To re-launch the nonprofit organization «Artists Archive Juan Carlos Romero» to accompany and ensure the inalienability of the archive, its preservation and socialization, promoting its local registration.