Sofia Imber, who turned a garage into the Caracas Museum of Contemporary Art and became one of Venezuela's most influential women journalists, died Monday in the capital. She was 92.
The former director of what was once among Latin America's most important art galleries succumbed to complications due to old age, her biographer, Diego Arroyo Gil, told The Associated Press.
Imber's television program Buenos Dias, which she hosted with her second husband from 1969 to 1993, was a landmark of Venezuelan journalism and politics. She became famous for her cutting interviews with global leaders such as former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, Israel's Simon Peres and the Dalai Lama, as well as with writers like Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
Social media was flooded by people lamenting her death. "Good journey, dear Sofia Imber. You gave us art, you gave us culture, you gave us an example of tireless work. That was your best piece," humorist Eduardo Edo Sanabria said on Twitter.
In 1971, when Venezuelan authorities were looking for a place to display art, Imber famously said: "If you give me a garage, I will turn it into a museum."
Three years after, she created a foundation to transform an auto parts garage into the first museum of modern art in Venezuela. In less than a decade, it had grown to hold pieces by Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Henry Moore, Fernando Botero and many Venezuelan artists. At one point, it had more than 4,000 works and received more than 15,000 visitors a month.
Laid off by Chavez in 2001
Imber, a critic of the socialist government established by the late President Hugo Chavez, was laid off as the museum's director by Chavez in 2001. She called her dismissal "one of the most painful moments" of her life.
"The president forgot or did not want to recognize the courage and the dedication of this wonderful woman," artist Jesus Soto told AP before his death in 2005.
Before being fired as museum director, she created a program to bring paintings and sculpture to suburbs and faraway places. In 1967, she became the first Latin American woman to win UNESCO's Picasso Medal. She also received awards in Brazil, France, Chile, Colombia, Italy, Mexico and Spain.
"Sofia Imber took contemporary art to the most remote areas of the country," Soto said.
Born in Soroca, Moldova, then in the former Soviet Union, she arrived in Venezuela in 1930 with her family. She later graduated from Central University of Venezuela.
Lived in Paris, Brussels
In 1944, she married Guillermo Meneses and they had four children. Meneses later held diplomatic posts in Paris and Brussels, where the couple met intellectuals and artists like Picasso, Andre Malraux and William Faulkner.
The couple divorced in 1964 and she later married journalist Carlos Rangel.
In a speech after being let go as director of the Caracas art museum, she said: "I want to be remembered as a worker and tireless woman."