We first came across the extraordinary work of Fernando Botero in the centre of Medellin, where his huge gordo sculptures add some much needed glamour to an otherwise dreary city centre. Botero is a Medellin native, but it is in Bogota that they have created an entire museum to celebrate Colombia’s most famous contemporary artist. Not only is it housed in a beautiful colonial building, its free.
Walking through the door you’re immediately greeted by a giant bronze statue of a hand. Unmistakably Botero, and, if I’m not reading too much into it, the bottom of the palm is, well, bottom-like. The Botero Museum is packed with paintings and sculptures by Botero, but is also home to lots of other famous artists. It includes works by Henry Moore, Picasso, Dali, Degas, Miro and many others. You could easily spend several hours wandering the galleries.
Despite the galaxy of artistic superstars on show, it was really Botero’s work we wanted to see. While many of his works are humorous – often satires on the work of others – walking through the galleries the great depth to his work is what struck me. That is something easy to overlook when confronted with so many exaggerated, oversized gordo and gorda men, women, children, animals and still life.
Many of the paintings feel extremely personal, almost perversely so, like you are staring into the most intimate parts of someone’s life. They are tinged with sadness, some feel tragic, even while being comedic at the same time, and some are out-and-out creepy. What is for sure, Botero captures humanity in all its raw, and frequently naked, forms – the man loves a female nude, no doubt about it.
For most of his life Botero mainly stuck to traditional topics. More recently he has courted controversy with a series of works dealing with the drug cartels, the FARC revolutionaries and, in 2004 and 2005, a series of hard hitting paintings on the torture and humiliation inflicted on prisoners in Abu Ghraib – although the latter aren’t in the museum.
A recurring theme in his paintings is that the artist appears in the paintings, sometimes more subtlety than others. It is like a voyeur peeking through the window into a room that they shouldn’t look into.