Museo de Arte Moderno de Buenos Aires [Buenos Aires Museum of Modern Art]

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.

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….okay.

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.

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….okay.

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.

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From the Delia Cancela exhibition; I will photograph anything with a cat on it.

And so today, we look at the Museo de Arte Moderno de Buenos Aires, and maybe learn a thing and feel a feel.

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The building itself is pretty cool.

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:

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Maybe you’re already rolling your eyes.

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.

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And optionally your butt, if you sit in front of the screen, but do not bare that.

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.

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Bet it could really scamper on those wee legs.

Also in the sculpture realm is this Crucifixión by Norberto Gómez, which is certainly not the most comforting thing I’ve ever seen.

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That…that looks painful.

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.

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I don’t know, man. Maybe take a vacation.

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.

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And I say this as a Zdzisław Beksiński fan, Heredia’s stuff creeps me right the hell out.

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.

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Desocupados [The Unemployed] by Ricardo Carpani, and Fábrica [Factory] by Juan Manuel Sánchez.  You will find the concerns of the working class frequently in Argentine modern art.
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This is a truly terrible photo of Gato y flores by Carlota Reyna.

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.

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Nicolás García Uriburu, Interior de autobús

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.

 

Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes [National Museum of Fine Arts]

Bellas Artes is one of the big dogs, obviously.

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It contains not one but two gift shops.

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:

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Who has this much hair
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How do these not cause headaches

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!

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St John here giving you a big hint as to who the principal subject here is, or else trying to draw attention to the incredibly inappropriate baby toy.

Early 1500s Virgin and Child with St John from Florence.

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If I ever have a castle, Imma get so many tapestries

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.

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If you leave severed heads laying around, the baby is totally going to get into them.

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.

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Raymond Monvoision, “self portrait,” early 1800s France.
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Goya, doing Goya things.

There’s a lot of Rodin, owing to the museum’s first director’s admiration of him.

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“The Earth and the Moon,” 1898, because how many times do you really want to look at “The Kiss”
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Henry Moore, “Reclining Figure, External Forms

But let’s turn our attention to the Argentine artists, my very favorite feature of Bellas Artes.

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Cándido López’s “Wintering Eastern Army,” more beautiful in person than any photo I’ve seen.
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“To the Sunshine” by Fernando Fader, 1922, included here because she’s knitting.
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“Nude” by Emilia Bertolé, 1919

And into more modern styles:

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“The Improviser,” Emilio Pettoruti, 1937

And mixed media works, such as Jorge de la Vega’s “A Timid Person’s Intimacy” (1963):

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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.

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JEEEEEZUS WHAT THE HELL MAN

I’m also tacking on Joaquín Torres Garcia, who wasn’t Argentine but Uruguayan, because I really love his stuff so much.

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“Contrast,” 1931

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.

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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.