I am still recovering from a “flu-like” virus, which wasn’t too bothersome as I mainly slept for three days, but I managed to make a quick visit to the Centro de Arte y Naturaleza (part of the Museums of the National University of Tres de Febrero, which also includes the Museo de la Inmigración). It’s in a really lovely building on the perimeter of the old Buenos Aires Zoo, which was chiefly built around the turn of the 20th century and as such is a fascinating example of old zoo architecture but was closed down for being a cruelly terrible zoo.
The Centro itself faces the large and busy Av. Sarmiento:
It’s quite small and doesn’t take much time to visit–but it is free, has a helpful staff, changes exhibits entirely every few months, and is right within a nexus of other attractions, making it an easy addition to any plans that include La Rural or the Botanical Gardens, or any other of the numerous museums and gardens within walking distance.
Two artists are currently featured. The first floor holds Zoología Fantástica, by Argentine biologist and artist Pablo La Padula. From the description on the MUNTREF website: “…it invites us to re-read the historical-cultural markers that reside in scientific devices and their interpretations, as well as in the decisions that are made for scientific dissemination, and the forms that these constructions assume in the social imagination. The materials that are used, the assembly, the lighting and the organization system, come together to place the spectator in the place of the scientist.”
The upstairs houses a show by Peruvian artist Claudia Coca called “Do Not Tell Me I Do Not Know How to Catch the Wind.” It examines the city’s life forms and their interaction, and includes embroidered verses.
If you’re already in the area, and if you spend much time in Buenos Aires at all you eventually will be, pop into the Centro and see what they have showing. It’s free and open Wednesday to Sunday from 2pm to 7pm. I really hope they put whale kid on a postcard.
There is something that has always struck me as phenomenally tragic about the Malvinas War.
It isn’t the biggest waste of life ever perpetrated, but it was a waste of life all the same.
It’s not easy for people who were born and raised in imperial powers to understand, either. There’s a lot of background to the conflict, which is important for understanding how the islands are generally viewed by Argentines, and I am in no way well-versed in the history of it, so I’m going to try to briefly illustrate what was going on before the war broke out in 1982.
1– The sovereignty of the Malvinas (they are known officially outside of Argentina as the Falklands, but this is where I live and also what the museum is called, so I’m going to stick with Malvinas) had been in dispute for 200 years, although they have been held continuously by the British since 1833.
2– The belief that the Malvinas are rightfully the possession of Argentina has been culturally entrenched for a long time.
3– British rule over the Malvinas is seen as imperialistic, and the imperial ambitions of European nations and the US has long wreaked profound tragedy across South America, and indeed the political interference of those nations was actively still doing that in the support of the various military juntas that overthrew Latin American governments at the time.
4– Argentina’s military dictatura had murdered thousands of people and was facing a severe economic crisis and growing opposition; the war was a somewhat cynical ploy to bolster home support by appealing to that dumbest of manipulable emotions, nationalism. The war, the loss–it’s all tainted by its association with an illegitimate and murderous regime.
5– Unlike the US, which is more or less constantly sending soldiers to die in conflicts, Argentina hadn’t been involved in any foreign conflicts to speak of since the Paraguayan War in 1870. Most of the Argentine war dead in the Malvinas were conscripts.
So–the Museo Malvinas is located on the edge of the ex-Escuela Superior de Mecánica de la Armada, once the largest clandestine detention center and execution site during the dictatura, now a memorial complex. The museum itself is quite new and really lovely.
Outside the building is a large pool with a map of the Malvinas in the middle:
and a memorial to the ARA General Belgrano, which was sunk by British torpedoes with 321 of its crew and two civilians.
It’s not a particularly comforting space. You walk down, until the silhouettes of the ship are above you. The sound of the fountain forcefully brings to mind the idea of water rushing into the ship. It is an evocative, emotional memorial.
Inside, the museum covers the history and flora and fauna of the islands.
That is the focus of the very polished film that runs inside this little theater, despite its introduction here.
There are also areas that cover the older history of the islands as well as Argentine-British relations.
A sizable portion of the museum is dedicated to how the Malvinas have been and are currently addressed in Argentina’s culture, and the idea and importance of sovereignty.
Plenty of space is also given to the war and the dictatura (the leaders had assumed that the UK would not really bother with a military response and that the US, which Argentina had been aiding in funding the Nicaraguan Contras, would stay discreetly out of it, neither of which would be true) that made the dumb ass decision to go through with the invasion.
The war dead are, naturally, also memorialized. You can watch the tablets and note how many were young draftees.
So, for better or worse, the Malvinas remain a British holding (the Falklanders, incidentally, are overwhelmingly of British descent and wish to stay within the UK). The brief war ended with 904 dead and 2432 wounded. The loss finally brought down the dictatura, which had bought nothing with all the blood it spent for Argentina except meaningless grief and psychic scars.
The Malvinas are currently on the 50 peso note.
The Museo Malvinas e Islas del Atlántico Sur is free and open seven days a week and holidays. It’s accessible by train and several bus lines, as it is situated at the back of the ESMA on Avenida del Libertador, a huge avenue. None of the signage is in English, so if your language is weak, you’ll need to bring a translator. There’s a nice small cafe within the building.
As such, it has a very fine collection, and since this is a blog post, I will not be providing a thorough overview. For one thing, the museum has a very nice website partially available in English (and a guide app only in Spanish). So I’m just going to do a light overview! There’s just so much art!
Obviously, as a national fine arts museum, Bellas Artes has a strong collection of Argentine and Latin American art. The international collection trends noticeably to European art. Let’s have a peek, starting with these things, because I am a big fan of hair decoration:
These are peinetónes, very large versions of the Spanish peineta that were distinct to the fashion of the Rio de la Plata region in the 1830s, until shitty men took to criticizing the elaborate and expensive combs in the most sexist way possible (“terrible women neglect their families and whore themselves out in pursuit of this extravagance!”), and their use declined. You can find several contemporary illustrations mocking the peinetón. Certainly, there are reasonable criticisms to be made of fashions that are uncomfortable, inconvenient, and costly, but “look at these shallow immoral bimbos” is just the worst.
On to the older European stuff!
Early 1500s Virgin and Child with St John from Florence.
This is a Belgian-made tapestry from the early 1600s. As someone who can barely sit still long enough to embroider a simple outline figure on a handkerchief, I am always deeply impressed by tapestries.
This is a 17th century wood sculpture, “An angel with the head of St John the Baptist.” This stuff is all pretty typical of the time and region.
Moving forward, time-wise, the collection includes examples from a lot of the big dudes, El Greco, Rubens, Rembrant, Degas, van Gogh, Monet, Kandinsky, Pollock, Rothko, and so on.
There’s a lot of Rodin, owing to the museum’s first director’s admiration of him.
And mixed media works, such as Jorge de la Vega’s “A Timid Person’s Intimacy” (1963):
There are also, of course, Argentine sculptors represented, such as Alberto Heredia, who worked with discarded items to create his censorship allegory “The Gagged” in the early 1970s.
I’m also tacking on Joaquín Torres Garcia, who wasn’t Argentine but Uruguayan, because I really love his stuff so much.
Finally, here’s views of a couple of galleries, to give you a feel for the place, and the difference between the classical art galleries and the modern ones.
The Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes is big and pink and hard to miss at Av. de Libertador 1473 in Recoleta. You can get there on a lot of bus lines and the H line of the subway. It’s open 11am to 8pm Tuesdays through Fridays and 10am to 8pm Saturdays and Sundays. It’s free for Argentina residents and 100 pesos (currenetly about 3 bucks US) for non-residents, although it is free on Tuesdays and 645pm-8pm Wednesdays through Sundays. There’s a free English tour at 230pm on Wednesdays and Fridays. Most of the signage is also in English.