The Photographer and I like guided tours when we visit a new city. So much to see and we like the insights and background that only a resident can provide. For our second day in Buenos Aires, we spent half the day with an anthropologist from the university who took us on a graffiti art tour.
That might sound odd, but in Latin America, graffiti holds a position of cultural significance. It’s not vandalism; it’s art, politics, and criticism.+
Indeed, graffiti is so important that it is now frequently government-supported . . . which leads one to question whether free expression is being supported or co-opted.
Here, Claudia and I are looking at an example of pasting — the collaborative layering of graffiti and decoupage by several artists — in a corner of La Boca that is home to the city’s new cultural center.
In order to re-vitalize less visible parts of this historic neighborhood, the city has funded the painting of several large scale murals like this one.
Clearly some sort of permission is necessary to undertake a project of this scale.
This beautiful mural, showing folkloric figures, adorns the side of a very humble dwelling.
In San Telmo, we visited two large scale works that I don’t imagine were government sponsored . . . but perhaps I am wrong.
This work critiques an economy built on the export of massive agricultural wealth — cattle — while there is poverty and hunger at home.
This massive-scale painting was created by projecting a photo on to the side of this dilapidated apartment house. The building is located on valuable property that could be converted to more profitable uses; strong local laws protect the tenants and this boy is one of them.
Not all street art is political.
Here, I am standing next to The B-Ghost: a dual-layered, metaphorical drawing representing the relegation of the River Plate by the Buenos Aires Boca Juniors. This is a very important soccer rivalry. Also, the relegation happened something like eight years ago.
Sport! It unites us and it rips us apart!
We followed our street art tour with a trip to the Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires (MALBA).
I’ve probably said this before, but I love the atmosphere of art museums. Like churches and elementary schools, all museums feel a little similar when you step inside.
MALBA is a gem of a museum — a beautifully, purposefully curated collection of modern (late nineteenth, 20th century, and contemporary) Latin American art presented to demonstrate the unique sensibility that Latin American artists have brought to traditional fine arts.
The Photographer was particularly struck by this large scale sculpture — O impossivel — by Maria Martins, depicting her relationship with Marcel Duchamp.
We both liked this work, Illustration of Light, but instead of showing it to you properly, I am standing in front of it. We realized that my dress and the painting are the exact same color.
We were also transfixed by this experiential, installation work: Swimming Pool.
The Directrice is at the bottom of a swimming pool while the docent does nothing and The Photographer takes photos.
It’s an illusion!
On the upper level, visitors believe they are looking at a deep swimming pool. In fact, the water is no more than a few inches deep and the illusion of depth is created by an empty chamber, painted blue, below a glass floor.
And now, one piece of (recycled) travel advice. Everyone smiles at a lady wearing a bright yellow dress. Wear one and everyone will be happy to see you.
As I write this, I am sitting in a hotel in El Calafate — almost as far south as you can go in South America — and the music playing in the bar is Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong singing old standards. I love that this old recording is loved all over the world to this day. Imagine creating something that extraordinary.
* I always think of Christopher Newman and Benjamin Babcock (Henry James, The American) — who you could argue were perfectly-matched traveling companions, a mis-matched pair, or the uneasy halves of an ambivalent national identity — when I visit museums overseas.
+ Well, the B-Ghost is vandalism, but Claudia told us that any B.A. property owner would be pleased to see it on his house.
** Some of you may recognize this line; it’s from Waiting for Guffman.