Saturday, April 30, 2016

Museo Nacional Bellas Artes, Santiago

30 April 2016

Every society or culture has its own norms of conduct and etiquette.  These vary greatly among locations, and I find this endlessly fascinating.

The most glaring is in restaurants.  In the USA and Canada, the bill is usually delivered as diners are completing their meal, often after the waiter asks if they would like anything further, a dessert, coffee, a drink.  In most of the rest of the world, this would be considered rude, a move on the part of the waiter to hurry the guests along.  So diners are expected to either ask for their check whenever they have finished their meal, or to walk up to the counter to pay (depending on the country).  Yet if we did that in the US, people would think they were forced to wait too long.

Here in South America, it's definitely an "ask for the bill" atmosphere.  And something interesting happens in Argentina.  In many South American countries, when the waiter brings out the dishes, they tell the diners "Buen provencho," something vaguely translated as "Enjoy your meal," akin to "Bon appetit" in French.  But in Argentina, when ANYONE walks by your table and you have food in front of you, they say "buen provencho."  It could be other diners coming in or going out of the restaurant.  It could be someone coming around trying to sell magazines.  It could be someone walking by to go to the washroom.  Doesn't matter, the polite and expected thing is to say "buen provencho."  (We have NO idea how to respond.  Gracias?  Si, the food is good?  While our mouths are full of mouth-watering parilla, grilled meat?  We usually smile, nod, keep eating.)

Here in Chile, people say hola or buen' dia' when entering an elevator, and ciao or buenas when leaving the elevator.  Doesn't matter if you know the people or not, this is just the way it's done.  Similar to the Caribbean thing of greeting everyone when you walk into a store, an office, anywhere.  Doesn't matter if you know anyone or not, doesn't matter if you interrupt a conversation or not, you walk in and say "Good morning."  Just how it's done.

Okay, I spent an afternoon at the Museo Nacional Bellas Artes in Santiago, the National Museum of Art.  This museum is housed in the building in front of the Museum of Contemporary Art, on the main street, across from Parque Forestal.

The 1910 building itself is gorgeous, a mix of neo-classical and Baroque styles, with domed roofs and Corinthian columns in the front.  I think my favorite part was what I guess would be called the frieze, even though this is lower on the building than a frieze normally is.  The decorative ornamentation above the windows, and below the moulding around the roof.  There were carved wreaths with mosaic rondels inside, each portraying a famous artist, including the years in which they lived.  And the name of each artist (all male!) was written in the language they used, so Phidias and Praxiteles were written in Greek.  (I really liked that touch.  And they were both sculptors in ancient Greece, for my non-art-history friends.  Plus what a good thing that artists paint self-portraits!)

There was also an interesting statue in front, with a dying or dead person and a kneeling winged figure.  The faces on both looked similar, as if the man turned into the angel, or something like that.  My online research says this is really Daedelus and Icarus, which makes more sense.  Created by the Chilean sculptor Rebeca Matte (1875-1929), the base merely says "Unidos en la gloria y en la muerte" - "United in glory and in death."  It's a very powerful piece of art, very strong an emotional, however one might interpret it.  (This is a bronze copy of the original - the statue was originally given as a gift to Argentina, but proved to be so popular that the artist's husband made a copy to be displayed locally.  And Ms. Matte was Chile's first woman sculptor.)

The interior of the museum is a huge open courtyard ringed by gallery rooms; the second floor has a vaguely oval shaped balcony overlooking the courtyard, and gallery rooms on the outside of the balcony.  Overhead is a huge glass domed roof with intricate beams holding the glass together.

When I visited, there was an installation that looked like flowers and clouds, or maybe flowers and swirling birds overhead.  This took up most of the courtyard, a wave of purple paper shapes supported by wires whirling, twirling, and swirling across the floor and the ceiling of the courtyard.  I have no idea who was the artist, nor what media was used.  It was fun, it was ever-changing depending on where I stood, it was a spiderweb of supporting wires when viewed from the upper balcony.  Most people don't realize the applied math and structural physics that goes into sculpture, what an amazing feat of engineering is needed to keep a sculpture or installation in place, especially when so many sculptures seem to defy physical laws such as gravity.

I enjoyed the purple waves, and of course walked through the middle and around all the edges, trying to get every possible view.  I'm just sorry I couldn't find information about the artist.

This was the only area of the of the museum where visitors were allowed to take photos, so I don't have images of the rest of the artwork.  But there was a really fascinating exhibit, and I want to include that information here.  And I have so many photos of the exterior of the building.  What's a blog without pictures, right?

There was a huge display of ceramic works by Fernando Casasempere, in most of the downstairs gallery rooms.  He's a modern Chilean sculptor, and his work was pretty interesting - much of it a modernized abstraction of pre-Colombian art, if you can imagine that.  I found it to be interesting.

But the best was the exhibit taking up most of the second storey gallery rooms.  The center was an odd installation, "El Rapto," or "The Rapture" by Norton Maza.  That was weird and interesting, a resin mannequin of a young woman, rising up to an opening in the clouds above, with a single spotlight shining down on her.  Yes, a modern Rapture.  The most interesting to me is that this statue was anchored only by her hand holding an upside-down bottle spilling out metal froth and foam.  She's floating almost 3 feet (1 meter) above the floor, with the only visible support being this single stream of petrified effervescence.  All I could think was that there had to be some rebar armature inside the mannequin, welded onto that spilled drink.  Which of course would make her heavier.  She definitely was defying all laws of physics and gravity, giving the illusion of floating, suspended partway to the heavens.

"The Rapture" divided the other exhibit in two, a north and a south wing.  (I had no idea which was which.)  This exhibit was a collection of art owned by the museum, but compiled in a sequence and grouping to address and explore a particular issue through the artwork.  I went through the entire exhibit without finding any information about it that was in English, everything posted was in Spanish.  Which I kind of like, then I can formulate my own interpretation of what the artist or the curator of the show might be trying to say.

This exhibit was entitled (en)clave Masculino.  Now, we've learned that clave is used as the word for "password," as in the wifi password at hotels.  But when people say it in English, they use the word "key," as in "here is the key for the wifi."  So this was something about having the key to the masculine, or the password to masculinity, or something along that line.

To the right of "The Rapture" the first room was full of paintings showing men, but all in relation to women.  And almost all were about male lust and male sexuality - Biblical stories of elders trying to seduce a young virginal woman, or a woman committing suicide after being forced to be unfaithful to her husband, a woman being visited by Zeus in one of his disguises.  The next room was titled something about "Voyeurismo" but was full of female nudes - almost like women as the Everlasting Temptress.  The final room was definitely about male power and violence, often with a sense that the violence was perpetrated by the woman's actions - such as Hercules killing his children because he was betrayed by his wife, Medea.  Artwork on the "she done him wrong" theme.  (Because we all know the male of the species is never wrong.)

So okay, this was pretty much the negative side of masculinity?  Something like that.

To the left of "The Rapture" the first room had a variety of paintings of Jesus, men as fathers, men as teachers.  The nurturing side of being male.  The second part was labeled "Homoerotico" and was basically beefcake - lots of male nudes, although usually more active than female nudes.  Sisyfus rolling his rock continually up the hill, Prometheus fighting his bindings as the eagle comes daily to tear out his liver.  Gorgeous male nudes, I have to admit.  Though I questioned in my mind whether this was homoerotic, just as are female nudes all voyeuristic?  Or is the artist merely extolling the beauty of the human form?  Trying to emulate what some would call the apex of the Creator's works?  I don't know, I just question the labelling.  Anyway, then the third gallery was something about "Androgeneo," where men were obviously dressing as women, or men and women were portrayed as vaguely androgynous or almost hermaphroditic beings.  So maybe exploring not only the feminine side of men, but also that men can be weak and women can be strong?  Again, I wasn't sure, I was just trying to understand what the artists and the collection were saying.

So then I finally found something in English, explaining the exhibit.  The grammar leaves something to be desired, and the explanation at the museum's website actually is better when translated.  Here's a compilation of what was written by the curator of the show, Gloria Cortés (presumably a woman):

"In the selection of about one hundred works from the collection of the MNBA, it is possible to appreciate the masculine practices that have worked as joint axes of the Chilean currency. in the curatorship of art historian Gloria Cortés, include pieces of patrimonial heritage of the institution that are exhibited for the first time to the public as Dead Christ (1892) by French painter Jean-Jacques Henner (1829-1905) reminiscent of the version it is displayed permanently at the Museum d'Orsay in Paris and acquisitions as the Prometheus Bound Pedro Lira.

"The curatorship seeks to "defy and challenge gender models promoted by the art as articulator device imaginary and content (key) and the museum as the main territory of implementation and promotion of this model (enclave)" in the words of the curator, Gloria Cortés. "It is not an exhibition about men and women, but how the concepts of masculinity have dominated much of the political, social and economic spheres of our history." Through the National Fine Arts Museum's collection, we research masculinity practices in Chilean modernity.

"This is not an exhibition about men and women, but how masculinity concepts have dominated much of our historic conditions at politics, ideology, society and economics. Thus, "father" domination (man/State) is exercised through diverse forces: strength, violence, language, customs, education, religion, and art, among many others, which affects culture construction, gender, and class relations and ethnicity.

"The exhibition, presented in the north and south of the second floor of the museum wings and is divided into two main themes: male identities, where themes are explored as primogeniture, patrilineality (honor and birthright) are confronted starting with masculinity crisis in history; the question of alternate sexualities and homoeroticism and the "museum lineage "with portraits and self-portraits of key art history in Chile, as José Miguel Blanco, Virginio Arias, Pablo Burchard, Juan Francisco González and Camilo Mori characters.

"The exercise of power and submission, and the interpretations of consent, addresses issues such as voyeurism on the female body and violence exerted on men, women and children. In this segment, classics coexist heritage collection of the Museum as Marchand d'Esclaves or La Perla del Mercader, Alfredo Valenzuela Puelma, with pieces that have been exhibited to the public on rare occasions, like the enigmatic The smoking (ca. 1900 ), Vincenzo Irolli. Also include works that collect common motifs of Western art from the seventeenth century onwards, as Death of Lucretia, author unknown or Samson betrayed by Delilah (1873) of Cosme San Martin, works have in common reveal situations of violence.

"These inflections on the heritage collection of the Museum are necessary, according to the curator, because "not only collect art, but also ideas and ways of thinking. A museum is transformed into a heritage site not only works that comprise but also the value of the representations that each era has developed and allow us to question its validity today. we are, or should be, devices for social transformation and have the ability to conceive a museum on a human scale. contemporary need not be the works, but the looks we offer to the community as a space of social invention, experiences and shared stories.

"(en) clave masculino Colección MNBA invites on reflection about the plurality of identities, recovering memory regarding absences and redefining gender relations. This disables domination and power structures, enhancing social aspects of care, nurturing and giving, according to Alda Facio's concept. Recovering and giving access to the Museum's collection, and to the value of its performances."

Interesting, isn't it?  I found the entire exhibit to be fascinating, and one of the best examples of using a museum to explore our current beliefs and try to get people thinking about changes.  The role of a museum can be so much more than just a warehouse of artwork.

This really was a powerful and thoughtful compilation of artwork, and I hope it begins a national dialogue on gender roles. 

Here's the website for the museum - you can see some of the artworks from the (en)clave Masculino exhibit.  And, as at the Museum of Contemporary Art, entrance to the museum is 100% free: 

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Our First Week in the Belles Artes Neighborhood

27 April 2016

We had a great flight last Wednesday heading back to Santiago, Chile.  Flying over the Andes is always amazing - this the longest continuous mountain range in the entire world, running from Venezuela in the north to Chile and Argentina in the south, almost 6000 miles (9000 km) long!!!

And absolutely gorgeous this time of year, with all that snow shining up at us!  I kept looking for pumas running around, but we might have been a bit too high up.

Our current apartment-hotel is in the Belles Artes neighborhood, right near Parque Forestal and the two art museums.  Also right next door to what seems to be the only hill in Santiago, Cerro Santa Lucia.  With some oddities, like a street named Mosqueto.  And a pair of murals near the Belles Artes subway stop. These two murals are by Chilean street artist Inti Castro, portraying children (or maybe dolls?) in and with traditional Mapuche (the indigenous people) clothing, tools, crops.  His artwork both embodies the traditional indigenous Andean culture as well as focuses on the country's ongoing challenges.  (The white writing on the orange mural, and the red splotches on the purple mural, are from people who chose to deface these works.)  There are all kinds of possible interpretations here, but between the bullets on the belt of one child, and the Chilean flag face covering on the second, these are definitely artworks protesting the current treatment of the indigenous people of this country.

I decided to go to the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo (or MAC).  This museum is attached to the Museo de Belles Artes, and you can walk through from one museum to the other.  They both are across the street from the Parque Forestal.

There were some interesting pieces at the museum.  But I have to say, I liked the building itself better than much of the artwork inside.

I'm not always a fan of contemporary art.  While I like the challenge of conceptual art, trying to understand the artist's meaning, I still expect a certain standard of aesthetics, a level of beauty.  Just like one can say almost anything in a tactful way, one can also create artwork about anything in an aesthetic way - artwork about the world's ugliness doesn't have to be inherently ugly.  Anyway, that's just my take on it.  I do understand other's artistic decisions to create ugly art, I just don't necessarily like it.

At the entrance to MAC, there's a great quotation:

"The visual arts, in its many expressions, we talk about who we are and who we can be; possible and imaginable; what our men and women create, they seek and dream."

     - Ricardo Lagos Escobar, President of Chile, 2005

I know, the grammar isn't perfect, it's a google translation so it isn't exact.  You get the idea.

This is one of those museums that allows non-flash photography.  So here are some of the pieces that spoke to me.  I'm sure the photos and my descriptions won't quite line up, but my description will be in the same sequence as the photos of the artwork.

First, there were two photos from the series "Studies on Happiness" by Alfredo Jaar.  These are photos of everyday life - cityscapes with sidewalks full of people walking busily, highway scenes with cars racing by - modern busy life.  And the artist has doctored billboards so they simply say, "Es usted feliz?" - asking "Are you happy?"  No one in the photos notices the signs.  No one shows any indication of happiness, nor of noticing whether they really are happy or not.  Just, modern times.  Lacking in happiness.

There were all kinds of pieces focusing on the politics of the time, social protests.  I don't know enough about Chilean history to really understand anything that was specific to one time and place.

But this next piece, "While the World Watches," is universal enough that one doesn't need to know anything about whatever particular incident or situation is shown here.  Painted by Guillermo Núñez in 1967, the painting obviously portrays a war, a battle, some kind of attack that was injuring and killing the general populace, while some people scream in fear, in pain, in horror.  Others run to escape.  And the world, obviously, watches and does nothing to intervene, nothing to stop the horror.

The untitled weaving by Paulina Brugnoli was just sort of a nice break from thinking.  It seemed to be a study in shape and color.  And oddly looked more like a vaguely abstract or cubist sunset over water than anything else.

The next piece needs to be seen large; it was a massive canvas, covering most of one wall.  Painted by Gracia Barrios, this is titled "America Will Not Invoke Your Name in Vain."  The title of the artwork is also the title of a poem by Pablo Neruda, Chile's famous poet laureate.

Both my understanding of the information about this painting and the google translate version are rather iffy.  The gist, as best I can comprehend, is that the artist Latin American continent and its people are part of a unique but related history, tradition, and culture, which have problems and challenges, but also can contribute to the modern development of art and a unique culture.  This painting is the central panel of a triptych that unfolded and enveloped the viewer, creating a work that is monumental both visually and in importance.  It portrays the American story [South American, but in some ways also North American] through a representation of anonymous people.

Okay, a little visual intermezzo with another interior view of the MAC building.  Plus the statue across the street, in the Parque Forestal.  No idea who created it, what it means, to whom the sculpture is dedicated.  It was there, I took a photo.
Next up, the colorful "Seven Volcanoes" by Nemesio Antúnez, painted in 1963.  Isn't that a great name, Nemesio?  Someone's nemesis!  I liked the bright and crazy colors, the feeling of being in all that flaming magma or lava.  The artist, according to the info card, was showing the geography and cultural identity that define a country's image.  He has painted the mountain ranges, the volcanoes, where a patch of sky is reflected in a mountain lake.  He painted the north and south, a vision of which is Chile.

Then there's the lovely and quiet "La Lectura," or in English "The Reading."  This painting is undated, but the artist, Augusto Eguilez, lived from 1893 to 1969, so there's a definite Impressionist feel and influence in this sensitive portrait.  

The last piece is simply titled "No. 1" and "No. 2."  This mixed media pair is by María Loreto González.  They are mostly drawn and painted on rice paper, with some ceramic pieces in there, and then mounted on resin board and covered in varnish or resin.  These are probably the most modern pieces I liked, completed in 2015.   I'm not sure if González is male or female, the endings aren't always consistent in names.  I just liked the mix of colors and patterns, the start out looking abstract and then I see skulls or animals or dancing people in there.  They're alternately exuberant and darkly foreboding.  

From our tiny balcony on the 17th floor, we can see the distant mountains to the east of the city, which mark the border with Argentina.  The actual border is somewhere in the middle of the Andes, but these mountains loom as the vague edge of the country.

The weather is most decidedly autumnal, and the snow atop these mountains changes daily.  We have a cold and rainy day, the snow increases up there and looms ominously closer to us.  Our days warm up a little, the sun shines, and the snow recedes a bit on those mountaintops, never disappearing completely.  It's like a game of tag, with the snow chasing the city, and the city trying to run from the snow.

We finally received the paperwork for our FedEx box of medications, so our prescriptions are topped off for the next several months and we can head out for parts unknown.  And definitely for warmer weather.

Here are a few more photos of the lovely MAC building.  If I'm translating correctly, the neoclassical building was built in 1910.  The website is - though I could only find the Spanish website, they don't seem to have an English translation.  Oh, a bonus - this museum and the Museo de Belles Artes are both free!  Closed Mondays, though.

And a few more pictures of the Andes, as large as I can make them, just because they're so incredible!