Pérez, Carlos


Brief biographical profile, by Artemio Sandoval

Carlos Pérez (Carlos César Pérez García) was born in Valencia in 1947, a place which has been referred to in some texts as ‘the Land of Impossible Modernity’ (1). He is the youngest of the three children (2) born from the marriage between Carlos Pérez Moreno and Isabel García Pardo, who in the immediate post-war period opened a cardboard and stationary warehouse for print and commerce, in the Velluters neighbourhood of Valencia, near the Central Market.

In the years preceding the civil strife, the father, an amateur photographer, (3) had written and premiered, to some moderate success, operettas of comedic nature in collaboration with the musician Leo Aguirre; the mother, addicted to crime and spy novels, was an unconditional follower of Agatha Christie, George Simenon, Alfred Hitchcock’s films and, like her son Carlos, the adventures of Inspector Dan published in Pulgarcito magazine.

The wife and husband made a somewhat odd couple, they loved cinema, theatre shows, and the circus. (4) It should me added that the father spoke English, a rare skill at the time, and also bought the Spanish edition of Life magazine. The older brother, Alfonso, who was studying Medicine, brought home copies of the weekly publication Paris Match. (5) Without a doubt, that entire universe was his real education, from which he received a more solid education than what was provided to the students of Pías School, where he studied for several years. According to his writings, he was only interested in Spanish and French literature, taught by a professor who was ‘a rather strange and quirky priest, who, among many other things, helped me appreciate the Age of Enlightenment’s values and showed me that modernity in Spain had always come from France. He was the only person in that school who taught me something positive’. From then on, Carlos Perez’s eagerness to read increased progressively. (6) Over time, in his repertoire of favourite writers, he included names who had developed a literature of a very different character: Marcel Schwob, Charles Dickens, Francisco de Quevedo, Boris Vian, Dashiell Hammett, Daniel Defoe, Herman Melville, Roald Dahl, John Dos Passos, Julio Cortázar, Jonathan Swift, Vicente Huidobro, Ramón Gómez de la Serna, Oliverio Girondo, Karel Capek, Mark Twain, Rudyard Kipling, Jacques Prévert, Robert Louis Stevenson… (7)

After finishing the Scientific Baccalaureate, imposed by his father, and traveling to France on two occasions, he enrolled in the Faculty of Philosophy of the University of Valencia, where he graduated in Education Sciences. As gathered from some statements, he did not care about any of that, with the exception of the trips to Paris. (8) Shortly after finishing his degree, he travelled to Cologne and had the opportunity to see an exhibition of a specific collection by Sidney Janis, which included a series of works by Joaquín Torres García that were of special interest to him. The discovery of the Uruguayan artist suggested some paths he could follow. Indeed, Torres García’s relationship with pedagogic theories led him to deepen the dialogue between modern art and pedagogic renovation movements. Many years later, the results materialised in two exhibitions held at the IVAM (Valencian Institute of Modern Art), in the Free Institution of Education rooms in Madrid, and in La Pedrera building in Barcelona, under the title ‘Childhood, Modern Art, and Aladdin Toys. The Toys of Torres García’. (9)

In 1973 he married Margarita Soria, a colleague of the Faculty, and four years later, Marta, his only child, was born. During those years his activity focused on designing didactic materials, which were highly influenced by the pedagogic contributions of María Montessori, Ovide Decroly, and Bauhaus. Given the lack of interest shown by the publishers and toy makers at the time in this type of work, he opened his own workshop in the city centre to make and sell said toys. After four years of activity, the establishment closed its doors due to lack of adequate funding. (10)

In spite of scarce cultural opportunities in Valencia, (11) and of suitable spaces in which to develop proposals, Carlos Pérez chose to delve into the study of the avant-garde, particularly into everything related to graphic design. At the same time, he began writing texts about 20th century art and literature for various magazines. In 1989, he joined the IVAM’s Communication and Didactics department, an institution where he would later become the curator of printed material and head of the collection. (12) In those years, due to the exhibition The Ultraist Movement and the Plastic Arts, a project developed by Juan Manuel Bonet, he had the opportunity to see the work of the Chilean poet Vicente Huidobro, a key name in avant-garde literature, who maintained a great relationship with different innovative authors in Paris. The mentioned exhibit motivated him to depart on several occasions for Santiago de Chile, with the aim to investigate and reconstruct the history of the ‘painted poems’ which formed the Salle XIV series, for which Vicente Huidobro had achieved great notoriety.  

In 2000, by invitation of Juan Manuel Bonet, then director of the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid, (13) he began to work as a curator in said institution. There he would complete the first edition of the poems that compose the Salle XIV project and produce a facsimile of the Création/Creación magazine, founded and directed by the poet, as well as the exhibition Vicente Huidobro and the Plastic Arts, which was also presented in Chile.

In 2005 he returned to Valencia and initiated the MuVIM exhibition programme. (14) He focused the programme on three major international themes that were not traditionally considered nor had spaces in other museums in the city: graphic art (posters, typography, and contemporary design), photography, and illustrated books. (15) As Carlos Pérez himself expressed in a lecture: ‘For five years I happily worked at the MuVIM, but, as it had already happened in the IVAM, political interference sank the project. It was very obvious that Valencia wished to continue being the Land of Impossible Modernity’.

During the time he worked at the MuVIM, he collaborated in projects developed by other museums, like the exhibition Picasso: Viñetas en el Frente, held in the Picasso Museum in Barcelona, and The Modern European Poster 1888-1938, in the Picasso Museum in Malaga. He also collaborated with articles in the magazine LARS. Cultura y Ciudad (LARS. Culture and City), of which he became content manager.

Throughout his career he has written various texts on artists such as Pablo Picasso, Saul Steinberg, George Grosz, John Heartfield, Joaquín Torres García, Fortunato Depero y Ramón Gómez de la Serna, among others. He has also approached fiction writing on several occasions, but his shyness has caused him to sign his stories with a pseudonym (an exception is the short story Kembo, illustrated by Miguel Calatayud).

In November 2012, the French Embassy awarded him the title of Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters. At the award ceremony, which took place at the French Institute of Valencia, he evoked the neighbourhood of Velluters, where the Institute is located, which was his home from childhood to the mid-seventies: ‘Velluters, recent name of the neighbourhood, was a kind of narrow-street ghetto and more cosmopolitan than people can imagine. Indeed, since the 18th century, Swiss print workers, Italian silk dealers, German watchmakers, French shipping agencies, English representatives of Newfoundland’s salt fish and cod companies, suppliers of spices for perfume and charcuterie, textile merchants, fish vendors from all over the Mediterranean coast, winemakers, milliners, rope makers, paper storers (like my father), dyers, fan makers from all over the country had built their residencies and factories in the area (the authentic city centre). And, in addition, circus artists who rented out rooms in low-cost hostels. One could say that this conglomeration was a strange mix of Jews and Christians from which we would emerge’.

A few months ago we met in the street and I asked him what was the origin of the Buffalo Bill Romance that Media Vaca was publishing. After assuring me that our encounter had been purely coincidental since he had moved to Prague some time ago, he replied: ‘The origin of the book is that scene in The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes in which an enraged Queen Victoria ordered the immediate destruction of a certain prototype of human-powered submarine, which she considered to be “unsportsmanlike, anti-British, and in very bad taste”’. (16) Rather than amusing, I found the answer to be disturbing.

1. The first time in the article ‘Max Aub en La Tierra de la Modernidad Imposible’ (Max Aub in the Land of Impossible Modernity), published in the Jusep Torres Campalans. The Wit of the Avant-Garde catalogue. MNCARS (Queen Sofia National Museum Art Centre), Madrid, 2003.

2. Carlos Pérez never got to meet his sister, María Isabel, who passed away before he was born, at the age of two.

3. The photograph of Carlos Pérez that accompanies this book’s colophon was taken by his father on Three Kings’ Day in 1958. With the exception of the revolver and the rubber poniard that cannot be seen in the image, acquired from the warehouse La Cadena, the hat’s decorations and modifications (taken from his paternal grandfather’s unused wardrobe), the pouch, and the weapon holsters had been tailored by his mother.

4. Carlos Pérez recalls that, in his childhood fantasies, he imagined his father as The Great Carper, a show business man, and his mother as Miss Elisabeth, an exceptional horsewoman. The latter often sang the melody ‘Ramona’, which, in 1928, had been popularised by the actress Dolores del Río. Many years later, Carlos Pérez was surprised to discover that the sculptor Alexander Calder manipulated the trapeze artist of his famous miniature circus to the beat of this song. Perhaps that was the reason why in the representation of Babar Visits the Circus, based on The Story of Babar, the Little Elephant by Francis Poulenc, Carlos Pérez included a version of ‘Ramona’ to accompany the contortionist’s performance. It is also noteworthy that his father, in the late 1950s, patented Carper ink for fountain pens. Apparently, Carper sounded similar to Parker, a famous brand, which, according to the man’s reason, could be a smart business tactic.

5. In a conversation, Carlos Pérez mentioned that, thanks to the magazine, he was able to follow the events of the 1957 Ifni War, as well as the day (11 October 1963) Edith Piaf and Jean Cocteau passed away.

6. As an anecdote, we can recount that he failed an important mathematics test because, instead of studying, he used that time to read a story about a lion hunter in Kenya and a news story about the hell an American pilot went through when, after undergoing surgery for injuries received in the Korean War, he involuntarily became addicted to morphine. Both texts, featuring fascinating subjects to him, appeared in a volume of Selections of Reader’s Digest that had been lent to him by a relative.

7. The list of authors he connects with the most is truly extensive. I went to visit him one afternoon and discovered that he had just finished reading How Tom Beat Captain Najork and his Hired Sportsmen and A Near Thing Captain Najork, two short texts for children by Russell Hoban, illustrated by Quentin Blake. When he saw my confused expression, he said: ‘These two stories are magnificent, as well as the drawings. And they also interest me because they feel like a continuation of the long series of books about William Brown (for me, they are authentic guides of modern pedagogy), written by Richmal Crompton and which we all read as children’. Carlos Pérez’s passion for literature explains, similarly, his annual re-read of The Discovery of the Tomb of Tutankhamen, which beyond Howard Carter’s chronicle about a key discovery in the archeological world, he considers it to be ‘a real adventure novel’.

8. In Paris' Museum of Modern Art, then directed by Jean Cassou, he was able to witness live works by Picasso, Léger, Picabia, Matisse, and Delaunay, among many other artists. That first visit to the museum left in Carlos Pérez an unforgettable memory and inspired him to study avant-garde art. He was also a regular attendee of Cinémathèque Française, particularly to watch programmes dedicated to American silent cinema comedians. In that establishment, near the box office, he regularly bumped into Henri Langlois, although he was unaware of this character’s importance at the time.

9. Later, in 2010, in the Picasso Museum in Malaga and in collaboration with José Lebrero, he developed a new exhibit about the aforementioned topic, titled The Avant-Garde Toys, in which pieces of a more radical aesthetic were displayed.

10. The L’infant (The Child) workshop, created in collaboration with other university students, was set up in Guillem de Castro Street and later obtained an extension in Turia Street, provided by Rafael Solbes, one of the members of Equipo Crónica, who had his studio in the same building. All of the workshop staff were disabled and received a weekly salary. Although the products were recognised nationally and internationally, the production was slow and limited sales. In addition, there was very low state aid, and the payment of such took an extremely long time to reach the accounts.

11. For this reason he joined the Collective of Plastic Artists of the Valencian Country and participated in some of the group’s activities like the exhibition The Other 75 Years of Painting.

12. Carlos Pérez has declared in some interviews that the IVAM was a real school for the professionals who began the museum. One could say that, between 1989 and 2000, the effort of the workers made the institution a national and international reference point. During those years a double goal was achieved: to spread the work of the figures and movements that had formed modern art, to make known the work of all those artists who were shaping the international art scene and were indicating where the proposals of the 21st century would go. For some time, Valencia seemed to have stopped being the capital of the Land of Impossible Modernity, as Carlos Pérez pointed out. But the constant political interference, especially after 2000, caused the institution to decay and the collection to lose the strength and rigor that had characterised it from the start, when it was organised by Vicente Todolí.

13. At MNCARS (Queen Sofia National Museum Art Centre) he organised various exhibitions and produced three musical shows. Among his work during those years, he has expressed his preference for the exhibition The Modern French Poster: Colin, Carlu, Loupot, and Cassandre, in collaboration with Françoise Léveque, and also for the project Isms by Ramón Gómez de la Serna and a Circus Appendix. This last exhibit, made in collaboration with Juan Manuel Bonet, which included documentaries, objects, paintings, sculptures, drawings, posters, filled the museum’s large spaces and was used to celebrate the considerably belayed century of Ramón Gómez de la Serna’s birth.

14. The MuVIM (Valencian Museum of the Enlightenment and Modernity) was originally conceptualised as a space dedicated to Enlightenment, to the influence of this movement on 18th century Spain, and to the figure of the Valencian historian, linguist, and polygrapher Gregorio Mayans y Siscar (1699-1781). According to the opinion of many professionals, supported by a large part of the press, the project was not well defined and presented all types of limitations. Shortly after the inauguration, it became a polyvalent space.

15. At the end of 2004, MuVIM’s inactivity became evident. This situation made it possible to introduce substantial changes to the exhibition programme. Despite the establishment of the three areas outlined in this text, a section directly related to the Age of Enlightenment was maintained. In this respect, the exhibition House of Bourbon: Science and Technique in the Spain of the Enlightenment, Freemasonry and Illustration could serve as an example.

16. The film The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes was shot by Billy Wilder in 1970. The main actors were Robert Stephens, Colin Blakely, Genevieve Page and Christopher Lee. The director reserved the role of Queen Victoria for Mollie Maureen, a well-known Irish actress who, three years later, would play the same character in an episode of the television series The Edwardians.

Photograph of Carlos Pérez Moreno. Valencia, 6 January 1958.