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: 

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