Do you know what is generally incomparably delightful? A well-done city museum.
We saw it in the wonderful Manaus museum in Brazil, and we see it again in the Wellington Museum. During my visit, I carefully selected my photo choices, ending up with a discerningly curated 50 or so. I, uh, will not be using all of them.
In the late 1800s, the museum’s building was the Bond Store, a warehouse for bonded cargo. I do have a video of the little holographic rat that runs around the storage room display, but WordPress issues require a workaround to post it and I’m not prepared to put that energy into it today. Use your imagination.
The first floor, Telling Tales, recounts the history of Wellington in the 20th century in vignettes and related artifacts.
The little displays cover things like establishing libraries, local lawmaking, and social issues–including the banishment of a Chinese immigrant diagnosed with leprosy to a tiny island in Wellington Harbour in 1903, where he lived in a cave until his death the following year. His food was delivered by boat or by flying fox, and whether that was a zipline or actual giant bat is not clarified.
Time for labour rights struggles!
The general strike that year–following a broken miners’ strike the year before–nearly led to civil war, according to the display, with the striking workers ultimately on the beaten end of street brawls with the better-armed cops. The strike lasted a week.
During World War II, the country had its own internment location on Matiu/Somes Island in the city’s harbour. Some internees were out-and-loud Nazi sympathizers. Some were just people with German names. The island’s prisoner population ended up including Jews, Pacific Islanders, Italians, Japanese, and actual Nazis all together. Shockingly, this led to some “tension and strife.”
And so on, around the room to the present day, as this blurry-ass photo somewhat illustrates.
That’s most of the ground floor. Next floor is devoted to the maritime history of Wellington.
Throughout, the museum has little interactive elements and multimedia displays, which of course I appreciate, and which I thought I’d mention here because I hadn’t yet, even though it doesn’t have anything to do with the photos.
Part of the floor is devoted to the sinking of the Wahine ferry in the Wellington Harbour (Cook Straight has seen many shipwrecks) in 1968. Two storms–Cyclone Giselle moving south and another moving north from Antarctica–merged over Wellington as the ferry came out of the straight, in just about the worst possible case scenario. Fifty-three of the 734 people on board died.
A short film is shown in the Wahine area.
The storm was truly a disaster; it also killed nearly 200 albatrosses in the Wellington area–birds that do not readily succumb to harsh sea conditions.
It’s the nature of history-focused museums to have some pretty emotionally difficult sections to them, and hopefully the physical space of the building is used to help ease the visitor back into the collections. In this case, the Wahine disaster is at the end furthest from the staircase, and so you do have the walk back to it to decompress a bit before ascending to the next floor.
The Ngā Heke floor houses a beautiful work of Māori art, Te Whanganui a Tara, and other works of contemporary Māori artists, and it also presents objects with imaginary histories “as a way to think about what history is and whose voice tells it.” Visitors can take tokens to choose which story they prefer for the objects.
There was a Māori stories exhibit on this floor that was closed for a booked group when I was there, so I look forward to returning to see that.
Instead of making this just crazy long, I am going to Tiny Tour the Attic, which definitely has its own vibe, as well as the temporary exhibit on Mittens, noted Wellington cat. In the meantime, you can find the Wellington Museum on the city’s waterfront, being generally awesome from 10am to 5pm, seven days a week. Entry is free, so hit that amazing gift shop on the way out.
And for today I have the long-closed-for-renovations-but-now-open Casa de Yrurtia! And it is looking pretty nice after years of closure.
Rogelio Yrurtia was an important Argentine sculptor in the early 20th century. As a talented young man in 1899, he was awarded a scholarship, on which he traveled to Paris. He would spend his career moving between Paris and Buenos Aires, where he would be known for his large scale, public works.
The museum is in the home of Yrurtia and his wife, the also very important artist Lía Correa Morales. The couple donated the house to the country to establish as a museum. It opened to the public in 1949; Yrurtia died the following year. Lía Correa Morales then served as the museum’s director.
The house rooms include the some of the couple’s own art collection, which I guess is a big plus to having a lot of artist friends.
The collection on display isn’t really extensive, but it is really interesting and frequently huge. Stands to reason; Yrurtia was a big deal in public and monument art. Maybe you think it’s kind of a juvenile assessment, being stuck on the size, but that’s probably because you haven’t been in the same small room as stuff that was designed to be viewed from far away.
At a certain point, the size is kind of an overwhelming feature.
Yrurtia created a monument to Manuel Dorrego, who had (stay with me here, Argentine history is kind of dramatic) opposed the government of the first president, Bernardino Rivadavia, and was named governor of Buenos Aires province following Rivadavia’s resignation. Dorrego himself was not long after overthrown and executed in 1828.
Incidentally, Yrurtia also sculpted the tomb of Bernardino Rivadavia, which is in Plaza Miserere.
And here is a Justice (commissioned by super rich guy Carlos Delcasse for his tomb and copied in bronze for the national Supreme Court), depicted non-traditionally, without scales or blindfold.
The museum also shows how the sausage is made, sculpture-ly speaking, which I recall reading somewhere was part of the point of the museum’s creation (as the house was also his workshop) but now I can’t find the source for that.
The museum does have a room about Lía Correa Morales, which it should, as she was also an important artist and doesn’t even get her name on the museum itself.
Finally, the house has a sweet garden, in which stands one of Yrurtia’s last works, The Boxers.
Like most (all?) of the small, state- or city-run museums, this one also hosts workshops and events. The staff is very nice! There wasn’t any English material on hand, so they printed out some translations for us. The museum is in Belgrano, not terribly far from the D subway line, and open Wednesday through Friday from 10am to 6pm and Saturday and Sunday from 11am to 6pm.
The MARQ is a small building that seems to be used primarily as temporary show space. It’s the only architecture museum in the country. The building dates from 1915 and used to be the water tower for the Retiro train station. It is currently one of the sites of a BIENALSUR contemporary art installation called “House Attack.”
The exhibition, called Invading/Resisting, is also tied to BIENALSUR. It’s a multimedia collaborative work on the interplay of the actions of humans and the natural world.
This is a Tinytour because it’s a wee space! You’ll just have to see what’s showing when you’re looking to go.
The MARQ is open Tuesday through Sunday from 1pm to 8pm. It’s located near Retiro train station. Admission is free and they have a tiny swag store, and I honestly respect the hustle.
I spent January in the US, and managed, during my relentless pursuit of Tex-Mex and Whataburger, to visit the McNay Art Museum, a place that will always be special to me.
The McNay opened in 1954, with the home, collection, and an endowment of Marion Koogler McNay, as established in her will. It was the first modern art museum in Texas, although the holdings expanded outside of that frame.
When I was a regular visitor, as a teenager, it was already a super cool place. There was an auditorium and workshop space, the grounds were beautiful, and the museum was free. I went often, and I got pretty familiar with the collection.
In 2008, the museum underwent a heckin big expansion, adding 45,000 square feet of space plus a sculpture garden. It isn’t free anymore, but it does have a cool gift shop and also lots of exhibitions. I do feel a bit wistful for the smaller oasis the McNay was for me back in the day, but it has grown and it is thriving and one must be satisfied with that.
I took a metric ton of photos, but I won’t subject you to them all. Mainly, I was just very happy to visit some old friends.
And meet some new ones.
The McNay also has a big-time theatre arts collection, some of which formed part of this exceptionally fun show:
Just a couple more pictures of the courtyard and grounds, I promise:
Should you wish to explore the collection and temporary exhibits more, the museum has a robust online presence. But do go visit if you’re ever in the area; you’ll be so glad you did. The McNay is treasure of San Antonio.
The McNay Art Museum is closed Monday and Tuesday, and general admission is relatively steep, at least to me (as I’m used to the inexpensive entry fees of Argentina), but they have a pretty extensive free and discount list. See the website for all the where, when, and how much nitty gritty.
Having been elbow-deep in various other obligations and pursuits, I have been a terrible blogger. But I’m actively scheduling some upcoming visits, so I had better work through my backlog here. I’m not going to say too much about the MALBA, as it is widely called, because…it’s really famous. If you’re an art-interested traveler touring Buenos Aires, it’s already on your agenda. As it should be.
There’s an impressive permanent collection, with all the usual suspects and more.
There’s also these amazing benches, probably my favorite museum seating in the world so far. It’s actually very comfortable.
I am very fond of birds.
What’s that? Fun, interactive pieces? Duh.
(Seven Unexpected Movements, Julio Le Parc)
The permanent collection is a real treat, but the MALBA also moves some pretty extensive temporary exhibitions through. When I visited, there was an exhibition of Pablo Suárez, an Argentine painter and sculptor with a pretty broad stylistic range.
You’ll burn a few hours in the MALBA, which is pretty much a can’t-miss stop in Buenos Aires if you’re at all into Latin American art and culture. Signage is in Spanish and English. There’s a nice restaurant with a solid menu, and a pricey gift shop. The museum is open from 12 to 8 (and an hour later on Wednesdays) except Tuesdays, when it is closed. General admission is, at the time of this post but haha Argentina inflation so do double check, $170 pesos (reduced admission for students, teachers, and local retirees is $85), except on Wednesdays when it’s $85 (and reduced admission patrons are free). Under 5 and disabled visitors are always free. Private group guided visits in English can be arranged by email.
The MALBA is located in Palermo, kind of between the Japanese Gardens and the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, close to many other major museums and attractions. Fewer places in the city are easier to get to via bus, taxi, subway (D line), or on foot.
I am hardly a scholar of art history, but I can tell you that modern and contemporary art is hard. It often doesn’t adhere to a traditional notion of artistic skill, it often doesn’t portray recognizable subjects, it often offends traditional sensibilities. This art doesn’t lead you to its point; it asks that you meet it there. Modern art requires the consumer to work.
And that’s not a super easy thing to accept.
And it isn’t hard to see why many people are suspicious of modern art; they look at simple, geometric paintings or found-object sculpture and get the sense that they’re being conned. I have some opinions about certain artists myself, certainly. Who would want to look at or experience something, ascribe to it a meaning, and then find out it didn’t mean anything? That would suck.
So modern art requires some faith on the part of the consumer. It requires some work to understand the artist’s intent. And it requires considering what art is and what it should do.
But that isn’t all there is to it. The consumer experience matters. When you look at something, your feelings are your feelings, and it’s useful to examine them. You don’t have to like what you see, you don’t even have to see what the artist sees. The artist doesn’t get to dictate your reaction or interpretation. How it makes you as an individual feel is important. Modern art places importance on innovation and that emotional evocation.
Regarding innovation, I will tell you of the two times I met Jackson Pollock’s work in educational settings. The first time I was a young child on a school trip to an art museum. The woman leading the tour showed us a large Pollock canvas, and told us maybe we thought we could do that, but that it was deceptively simple–it was the way that he dripped the paint, his method, that made it unique and valuable. She was an Adult Authority Figure in her Field, so I tried to see the skill in his splatters, despite my reservations. When I was in college, my art history professor gave an explanation that seemed much clearer to me. “Maybe you think you could do that,” he said. “But you didn’t.” Pollock had innovated, and created something that no one else can now create.
So maybe you see something in a piece like this, motion and depth and shape:
I think it’s perfectly fair to look at something that is abstract and decide what you see in it and if you like it. But I do encourage you to at least take that look.
Now, modern art of course involves more than just painting and sculpture. There are often multimedia components and even tactile ones. The exhibition Pulso by Nicolás Mastracchio∼ incorporates photography, found objects, video, and your bare feet.
After removing your shoes, you walk around in very close proximity to the photos and what are described as “fragile mobiles,” such as that dry leave you see there. You may sit for several minutes for the video portion.
Mastracchio∼ was influenced by meditation and Zen principles, and “exploring the spontaneous and ephemeral configurations of a small cosmos of objects, which is ordered in a few minutes and then photographed, together with the installation of mobiles in movement.”
I might not have come to that conclusion on my own, but I do see it. The room was smaller and the carpet was soft and dampened the sound, making the exhibition room feel more intimate and quiet than the cavernous galleries. Walking among things like photos and the small mobile objects gave me a sharp sense of my physical being within the space. And, although it isn’t mentioned in the exhibition material, I was also disturbed by the non-natural objects floating in the air and the water in the video. It felt like pollution that I could not remove, and that’s a feeling worth examining, too.
There are lots of Argentine modern artists represented in the Moderno’s collection. This is Integralismo Bio-cosmos N°1, by Emilio Renart, and all I can tell you I am super glad it does not move.
Also in the sculpture realm is this Crucifixión by Norberto Gómez, which is certainly not the most comforting thing I’ve ever seen.
But I wanted to talk about this one for a second. It is clearly a crucifixion; you can see that from any angle, without reading the title plaque. Think, or look here if you like, about traditional crucifixion scenes. At least in my opinion, there is usually a serenity to Jesus, even if his pain is evident. There’s a sense of structure in the composition. They are, in a way, comforting. To my eye, Gómez has reduced the crucifixion to its barest agony. With a minimal human aspect, it twists and contorts without relief.
And then there’s this guy.
This is Lengua. You might recall Alberto Heredia from the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes. Not everything he did involved terrifying disembodied mouths, but “terrifying” does seem to be a recurring feature, as seen here with the most alarming San Martin I’ve ever laid eyes on.
Last in the 3D arts that I’m going to note is Claudia Fontes’s Ofelia, which to me recalls Philippe Curtius’s waxwork Sleeping Beauty modeled on Madame du Berry (Curtius is now best known for teaching Madame Tussaud her craft; the Sleeping Beauty is in the London Tussaud location, and there are better images of it out there than the official video). I won’t go too deep into my thoughts on Ofelia, except to say that while the Sleeping Beauty waxworks (there were several) were created by and for the male gaze, Fontes has removed the female figure entirely, leaving only the gown (a garment that, incidentally, sunk Ophelia to her death). It does still breathe lightly, however.
Now, you could, for example, tell me that it’s just a dress with a little motor and a total sham, a cynical ploy to profit off being called “art.” Let’s say for a moment that you’re right. So what? Humans ascribe meaning in non-literal ways all the time; it’s a feature, not a bug. And people find personal meaning in things that were set up to make a profit, like Nicolas Sparks novels, CrossFit, or (let’s face it) any number of religious organizations, all the time. You, personally, might feel like it’s all bullshit–but the meaning they, personally, find in it is real. The main difference here is that the Moderno is free on Tuesdays.
I have less to say about these paintings, mainly because I didn’t photograph many abstract paintings, so I think these are easier to connect with.
I took this photo because the title is Cat and Flowers, which I thought was odd because there’s clearly two cats in the painting.
I liked this one because as a frequent bus rider, it feels very familiar, even though it’s more than 50 years old. All of the driver’s personal touches, from the Virgin of Luján to the scrolly letters, the crowds all the way up the full aisle–all still very true to life. I also liked it because there’s a cat.
So that’s a small sample of the Museo de Arte Moderno de Buenos Aires, well worth a visit. Much, if not all, of the labeling and signage is in English. It’s located in San Telmo and easy to get to by subway and bus. The building was recently overhauled, and there’s a cafe and a small bookstore, where you can afford to indulge in a coffee considering the museum’s entry price is 30 pesos (less than US $1, currently). The museum is closed on Mondays and free on Tuesdays; check the website for current ticket prices and hours.
December is here, and despite my strenuous objections, spring is warming up the city. These will be the last weeks to enjoy the parks and gardens without feeling super hot and gross the whole time. It’s time to visit the plant museum.
The Buenos Aires Botanical Garden is, objectively speaking, the best place in the entire city. It’s one good soundproofing and a few shady hammocks from achieving empirical perfection. These are just the facts.
And there is a small sort of museum on the grounds: the main building, where garden designer Carlos Thays lived while he was director of parks and walks, so there’s a nice perk you don’t see in city governments much today.
Inside, you’ll find some models of the gardens and structures and antique prints and maps. The whole thing is very picturesque.
The museum/administration building is the center of the activities for the Garden, and there’s also a wee children’s library, which is adorbs.
The Garden itself has QR code labels for some of its collection, which is very handy for an outdoor museum (just go with it okay), as you see here on the artwork circuit.
And like many large public gardens, you can find contemporary art installations, too, such as “Instalación Mesológica” by Didier Rousseau-Navarre, which is meant to “question our relationship with the earth in the Anthropocene Age.” The seeds are made from the wood of their species.
The Botanical Garden hosts many workshops and activities and is a goddamn delight. It’s in Palermo, near the Rural, the Japanese Garden, the former zoo, the Museo Evita, and lots of other stuff. It’s a nice place in the city to find some birds; I saw a really pretty green hummingbird. It’s free and open every day except Mondays, and closing times depend on the season; check the website. It’s accessible via the Plaza Italia stop of the D line of the subway and a whole mess of buses.
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.
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.
From my scant education in art history, I picked up a couple of things about J. M. W. Turner: I love him, and he used very, very long titles. Also that he was very prolific. Ok, so three things.
Eighty-five watercolors from the span of Turner’s career make up the show. They do not disappoint.
These two are from earlier on in his life, and you can read details about the paintings written by people more knowledgeable than I at the links, which go to the Tate’s website.
For my part, I enjoy looking at Turners from different distances. Here is The Destruction of the Bards by Edward I (c. 1799-1800). It’s a wild, beautiful landscape. Maybe you’re wondering where the slaughter of the bards is going on though.
The landscapes (and seascapes) are my favorites, with the expressive colors and elusive atmosphere. I feel like I’m clearly looking at a scene, without being able to pinpoint what I’m looking at. Does that make sense? I feel like it doesn’t, but it’s the best I can do.
Moving through his career and life in the form of his watercolors is a fine way to spend an afternoon. The explanatory signage is in both Spanish and English. The ticket into the show is AR$100, but it is free on Tuesdays and the rest of the week after 645pm (the museum is closed Mondays). The temporary exhibition pavilion is rather tucked away, so hold on to your ticket and follow your map, as the path isn’t obvious. As a major museum, swag is of course available, although Turner-specific swag has just two images to choose from. The exhibition closes February 17, 2019.