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!

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