“Para mí sólo existen dos tipos de cosas: las bellas y las tristes. Lo opuesto de lo bello no es lo feo; es lo triste." ”—
Faena Arts Center, Buenos Aires 2011
I went to Buenos Aires with the idea of following my new mantra of being “engaged with art.” As you know, it is also the title of this blog. One day in particular the mantra hit home; I had finally connected the dots.
While strolling with my traveling companion, aka Papi (dad in Spanish), we walked-by “La Casa Rosada” or Pink House, the official office of Argentinian President Cristina Kirchner. My first thought was of Pepto Bismol. According to my guidebook, it was chosen by the then president as the color of compromise between two political parties (the reds and the whites) who were fighting for power when the building was being constructed. Even with this explanation, it was the ugliest color for a building I had ever seen.
As we walked away, my eyes hit a clear contrast; a translucent cube that served as the entrance for the Bicentenary Museum, which commemorates Argentina’s 200th anniversary of independence from Spain. The museum happens to be located underground. So as we walked down the steps, two things struck me. One, the security guards wore uniforms from the 19th century, and a bubble-like structure was located at the end of the long hall. I could not help myself, and asked my dad to take a picture with two of the handsome guards. Unfortunately, photographs were not allowed of the the temperature and humidity controlled structure designed to protect David Alfaro Siqueiros’ mural titled “Plastic Exercise.” I remembered reading about the restoration two years ago, but the details were hazy. As I attempted to enter the structure, I was asked to cover my shoes and wait until the small group left the cave because the number of visitors allowed at one time was restricted. After walking around, our guide encouraged us to lie on our backs to better appreciate the work and look at it from different angles. The mural is one of the most beautiful and sensual images of the female body I have ever seen. Siqueiros, along with a group of artists, created an underwater world where his wife is the sole protagonist. Ironically, this mural had no clear political overtures, but restoring it and bringing it to the museum did! Siqueiros, a known Communist, was commissioned to create this mural in the 1930’s to be placed in the basement of the home of a private art collector who lived in Buenos Aires. Decades passed, the mural deteriorated until Ms. Kirchner decided to take it as her cultural pet-project. I am sure that the fact that she is a Peronista, descendent of the Worker’s Party played a role. Regardless of political affiliation, I am happy she had the mural restored.
My second engagement with art was a visit to the recently inaugurated Faena Arts Center in the ultrachic neighborhood of Puerto Madero. Alan Faena, a former model and real estate developer, is attempting to create a beautiful neighborhood and with a zen-like look and feel. A billboard next to the real estate agency read: Redefining Happiness (yes, in English). As we walked inside the cultural center, we encountered a gigantic fishnet installation by Brazilian artist Ernesto Neto. My first thought was to climb it. We had recently eaten a cow and a half at Siga La Vaca (“Follow the Cow” Restaurant), so my dad passed up the opportunity, while I eagerly decided to take off my shoes. After walking around the octopus-shaped structure, I felt very playful and relaxed. The walking path was made of plastic balls that had a similar feeling to walking on sand. All that was missing was some ocean waves in the background as well as a nice cold drink. Soon though, I saw a group of older women congregate around a museum guide, and quickly joined them. I was dying to hear more about Mr. Neto and his installation. I was thrilled to see their inquisitiveness and the dialogue that evolved. The session went on for a solid 40 minutes. In the meantime, my dad was happy enough to go outside and watch a crew of construction workers across the street move giant pieces of metal with a crane. It seemed that we had had our own natural highs for different reasons. Mine, though, was quickly deflated when we walked a couple of feet and I saw a cookie-cutter Starbucks. So much for reinventing my happiness!
My last engagement for the day ended on a happier note. It involved one of my favorite architects, Santiago Calatrava. As we left Puerto Madero, I asked my dad to take a picture of me in front of the Spaniard’s bridge known as “Puente de la Mujer” (The Women’s Bridge). Calatrava is known for structures that have a bird-like element. This bridge definitely has an arm that very much reminded me of a bird’s wing. I knew I was not flying but I was definitely gliding through a beautiful piece of art. (see photograph below)
As we headed back to our hotel, I felt my legs were going to fall off from all the walking. However, I was also thankful to have seen such different types of art all in one day. I had felt connected and engaged with a mural, an installation and a bridge.