Celebrated painter and founder of the Cuenca International Art Bienal, Eudoxia Estrella, died Thursday at 96. She was also the prime mover in establishing Cuenca’s Modern Art Museum and was its first director.
Called Ecuador’s “first lady of the arts” by former President Alfredo Palacio, Estrella was known in recent years for her efforts to reestablish painting and sculpture as the Bienal’s primary focus, complaining that “trendy and crass installation art” had displaced traditional work.
To many Cuencanos and expats who frequent San Sebastian Plaza restaurants, she was known as the lady who fed the pigeons in front of her house, next door to Café San Sebas and Casa Azul.
As an artist, Estrella was a prolific watercolorist who exhibited throughout Ecuador and Latin America. For many years, she taught watercolor classes to Cuenca children, believing that watercolor painting was underrepresented in art education.
A graduate of the Cuenca School of Fine Arts, Estrella was also known for her marriage to Spanish artist Guillermo Larrazabal, a master in stained glass who came to Cuenca in the 1950s to create several windows at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. She was a strong supporter of her husband’s later work, which became increasingly abstract and was considered “unreligious” by church officials. Larrazabal died in 1983.
With several other local artists, Estrella persuaded the city government in 1981 to convert the temperance hall on the south side of San Sebastian Plaza into the Museum of Modern. She served as the museum’s director from its opening until 2010.
In 1987, she helped establish the Cuenca Bienal, originally called the Cuenca Bienal of Painting. In recent years, she complained that the art presented at the Bienal had become a “celebration of kitsch,” emphasizing short-term fashion over traditional art forms. “I am a modernist and a lover of the abstract but take no pleasure from so-called art that offers temporary shock and titillation.”
Her dislike of “temporary” and installation art was particularly notable in 2012 when she called the winning exhibit, a video of a woman vomiting oil, “an outrage and a waste of space,” adding, “It inspires me to stick my finger down my throat.”