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Sounds of tango in the air

Sitting at my desk today I’ve been hearing the voices of tango singers floating up towards my 7th floor balcony. With hundreds of other apartments visible from my window I assumed a neighbor had taken on a new obsession & had started a practice of playing the stereo extremely loud. Eventually a slight tone made me realize that this was no recording but live music. How I’ve not kept up with the happenings around town. The annual tango festival is taking place. A quick visit to the city’s website revealed that the focus of today’s events are at the amphitheater in Parque Centenario. The entrance to the theater is a direct line of sight from my balcony. If I didn’t have some very pressing matters at work then I would hop over to the festival. Meanwhile, I’m listening to music from afar. It’s quite enjoyable to have the sounds of live tango drifting into your Buenos Aires apartment.

Literature, traveling, & the artwork of Kenneth Draper & Jean Macalpine

Casual conversations often lead to unexpected discoveries. The other day I walked over to Palermo to have coffee with Peter Robertson and talk about future plans for The International Literary Quarterly (interlitq). We had just finished releasing issue 7. Even though Peter and I both live in Buenos Aires, we edit and prepare each issue virtually via e-mail and transferring files around the net. So getting together to talk in person is a rare treat.

Among the news Peter had for me was that Alain de Botton was joining the board of consulting editors for interlitq. And since this is more or less a travel blog, I must mention that Alain de Botton’s excellent book The Art of Travel should be read by all travelers.

Artists on Menorca

Speaking of traveling, Peter told me about a recent trip to the island of Menorca. When I lived in Miami Beach, I had a roommate from Menorca. (A shout out to Carmen wherever she may be today.) Anyway, Peter was on Menorca to to meet Kenneth Draper & Jean Macalpine, who will be guest artists for upcoming issues of interlitq. I had to admit that I wasn’t familiar with their artwork but after viewing the websites of Kenneth Draper and Jean Macalpine I’m delighted to become acquainted with this “new” discovery.

Draper’s work is a wonderfully colorful collection of mixed media art and Macalpine creates fantastic hand toned photographs. You have to visit their websites: Kenneth Draper and Jean Macalpine.

Peter sent along this photo of him with Draper in Menorca.

Kenneth Draper & Peter Robertson in Menorca

Draper is a very recognized artist. He is a Royal Academician, which is something quite important and evidently Brits know what the letters RA signify after a person’s name, but most of us Americans are clueless about those initials. RA signifies that one is a member of the Royal Academy of Arts, and Ken Draper has his own page on the Royal Academy site.

While Draper & Macalpine have exhibited in London, they regularly sell their work to international private clients, and are now keen to give exhibitions on the Iberian peninsula and thereby, through their art, transmit the unique and ravishing beauty of Menorca to those living on the Spanish mainland.

Keep your eyes on the interlitq blog for announcements about the upcoming issues of interlitq featuring the artwork of Kenneth Draper & Jean Macalpine.

Now, Ceci & I just need to figure out how to work out a visit to Menorca into our travel plans.

The Well-heeled Friends of Art

A few days still remain to catch the Amigos del Arte exhibition at MALBA. (… till February 9.)

Curators Patricia M. Artundo y Marcelo E. Pacheco have excelled at the extraordinary challenge in pulling together the dizzying range of Argentine artists whose works were displayed in the exhibition space sponsored by the Asociación Amigos del Arte on Florida street between the years 1924 – 1942. …….and here’s a peek at Florida street during that time:

A cool touch to this MALBA show is the entrance: a black-and-white image of the original showroom is projected onto a walled curtain through which you must pass through to view the artwork. The curtain/projection screen momentarily confuses some visitors who stand before it not sure where to go. Eventually someone makes the first step in parting the curtain and others figure it out.

With the range of artistic styles on display the overall effect is rather jarring. If you’re familiar with Argentine art or visited many of the museums in Buenos Aires, then you already will have seen many of the works presented. There’s the usual suspects: Xul Solar, Berni, Quinquela Martín, Pettoruti, de la Cárcova as well as Fader, Foner, and Figari. And there’s a slew of others. Additionally, there’s a bit of sculpture (only a few heads), music (that was a popular listening station) and a mini-cine as part of the exhibition. I made the mistake of visiting MALBA on the crowded, free Wednesday. The little cine and the listening stations were the most popular while others strolled by the paintings on the walls. As always in museums, certain folks are engaged with close examination of the paintings while others merely give a passing glance.

As with the nature of this specific exhibition, with a focus on the association that sponsored the earlier displays of these works in the early/mid-20th century, you don’t learn much about the artists. But I was delighted to see several examples of works represented by the Artistas del Pueblo, which may very well be my favorite movement among Argentine art. A wonderful exhibition on these artists was held last year at the Imago Espacio de Arte on Suipacha street.

Did someone say oligarchy?

MALBA’s exhibition is an attempt to “reread” the Amigos del Arte. From the exhibition’s introductory pamphlet: “Amigos del Arte is understood as a space for art exhibitions administered by a group whose members represented the landowning oligarchy, or, to put it differently, the Buenos Aires high society.” [emphasis mine]

Considering the agricultural-government conflict of this past year, it was amusingly unexpected to see the historical relationship between the city’s rich and the campo so clearly spelled out. Of course, everyone knows that, no need to hush hush about the word.

I’m looking forward to learning more about the Amigos del Arte through the 300+ page catalog published along with the exhibition. But I really want to learn more about all these artists and not their patrons: talking about art is a fun parlor game for intellectuals but has nothing to do with creativity.

Cover art of old tango music scores

Browsing around the stalls at the mercado de San Telmo reveals some enchanting relics buried amidst an exhausting range of junk. On Saturday we came away with a set of old music scores, partituras. Not unexpectedly in Buenos Aires, much of the sheet music is tango though an occasional opera score is intermixed with the tango.

Never having learned to play any instruments, we’re more interested in the cover art rather than the actual sheet music. Some of the graphic design is really very good. The archivist in me wants to hope that somewhere there is a collection preserving all this stuff. These images didn’t come out very good since the sheet music covers are too large for our scanner, so these are just a few poorly done snapshots.

Depending upon the vendor, you might pay 25 pesos and up for one of these scores from the 1920s.

But if you search around some of the junkier booths, you can find some for only 5 pesos.

The typography is outstanding. I’m sure these can be found at a lot of places around Buenos Aires and not just the mercado de San Telmo. That’s just the closes place to where I live.

So, if you’re stuck for ideas about a unique gift or memento of your trip to Buenos Aires, then consider old tango sheet music….suitable for framing.

A Painting by Minkowski

Two years ago I wrote a post about Maurycy Minkowski, a Polish-Jewish artist whose life came to a tragic end shortly after arriving in Buenos Aires. Earlier this month I finally had a chance to see some actual paintings by Minkowski at the Jewish Museum at Libertad 769.


This is not a very good photograph. As I was taking it I could feel the presence of the guy coming up behind me to tell me not to take photos. Anyway, I just love this painting, the expressiveness of the faces.

Art Galleries in San Telmo

Every time I look around there seems to be more and more art galleries in San Telmo, which simply adds to the overall number of art galleries in Buenos Aires. The other day I went into an art gallery on Defensa that is worth visiting: galería de arte mercedes giachetti. It’s at Defensa 718 and is located in a very nice older building.

It’s a nice art gallery to visit and, if you go, be sure to take the staircase up to the first floor where the works by the art gallery owner Mercedes Giachetti are on display. Even if you don’t like contemporary art, visiting the upper floor of the art gallery is a nice chance to see inside one of the older buildings on Defensa.

Currently, there is a very good exhibition by Elvira Cosentino that runs till June 3, whose works I found rather appealing.

I also noticed on Sunday that Defensa is now closed as far south as Garay. There’s a bit more activity on Sundays now taking place on the block of Defensa between Cochabamba and Garay with several shops having opened recently and there’s even a tapas bar, plus one or two more restaurants. And, on the same block, is another cool gallery whose name, unfortunately I don’t remember. (I’ll have to go back and take note of it). Gee, in another year, Defensa probably will be closed all the way past Parque Lezama.

Oh, and I was mentioning art….if you’re interested in art in Argentina and Latin America then you certainly should be reading Arte al Dia.

Okay, here ends this public service announcement and free advertising …. but, hey, I know a lot of visitors to my blog are looking for that kind of thing … art galleries in San Telmo… so there you go.

Figari in Buenos Aires

The other day walking down calle Marcelo T. de Alvear I saw a plaque on a building that I’ve never noticed before. The sign said that Uruguayan artist Pedro Figari (1861 – 1938) once lived in the building. I immediately remembered having seen some of Figari’s paintings in Montevideo.


The main reason I’ve never noticed the plaque before is that across the street is a view of the rear of Palacio Paz, which always attracts my eye. The location is off of calle Maipu, just down from the corner where Borges lived.


If you’re in the area, take a few minutes to wander down that block of Marcelo T.

An interesting article about Figari tells us a little about the avant garde in 1920s Buenos Aires.

In the same year that he [Figari] arrived in Buenos Aires, Jorge Luis Borges was returning to his native country after an absence of six years, bringing with him the experience of the Spanish Ultraismo literary movement. Two years later, Fervor de Buenos Aires appeared. Oliveiro Girondo published Veinte poemas para ser leìdos en el tranvìa, a forerunner of the literary renewal proposed by the Martin fierrista movement. Figari initially refused to follow this trend, but rediscovered it later on. Also in 1921, the Prisma editions were released. This mural magazine was the first of a long list of publications: Inicial (1923-27), Martin Fierro (1924-27), Proa (1924-26), Valoraciones (1923-28).

All of these publications clearly manifested a desire to confront everything that was European, even if the origins of those avant-garde movements had been founded on European literary and fine arts movements. Spain and Ultraismo, Italy and Futurism, France and Surrealism as well as the Dada movement.

Take a moment to check out a Google image search on Figari to get an idea of his paintings.

Xul Solar

Xul Solar (1887-1963) is one of the most significant artists of the 20th century, yet he is little known outside of his native Argentina.


Repeatedly, I have asked people with art history degrees about Xul Solar and have been met with only blank stares. Since first seeing Xul Solar’s incredible watercolors two years ago, I’ve been fascinated by his work and the story of his life. His friend Jorge Luis Borges referred to Xul Solar as the most intellectual person that he knew.

Admirers and newcomers to Xul Solar’s artwork are in luck. A wonderful exhibition Xul Solar: Visiones y Revelaciones featuring over 150 of his works are on display at MALBA until August 15, 2005. The exhibition will then travel to the Pinacoteca in Sao Paulo. A beautifully illustrated exhibit catalogue with in-depth essays is also for sale from the museum’s bookstore.

If you cannot visit Buenos Aires or Sao Paulo during the exhibits, be sure not to miss the Museo Xul Solar in Buenos Aires. The museum building itself is an excellent renovation of Xul Solar’s Palermo home.

Reprints of Xul Solar’s paintings do not prepare you for the vibrant colors of the actual works. You really need to see the art of Xul Solar in person to appreciate it fully.

I’m fascinated by the early 20th century avant-garde that existed in Buenos Aires. It was one of the most dynamic cultural movements of the age yet is poorly documented in English. I’ll be posting more about Xul Solar and his contemporaries as I continue my research in this area.

Maurycy Minkowski, A Nearly Forgotten Artist

Just a couple of blocks away, around the corner from our apartment is AMIA, the Jewish community center here in Buenos Aires. In an upcoming post, I’m going to talk more about the 1994 bombing of AMIA that left 87 dead and wounded more than 100 people. But for now I want to focus on one fortunate cultural survivor of that bombing, which was the artwork of the now largely forgotten Maurycy Minkowski.

Minkowski had come to Buenos Aires in 1930 from Poland with his wife and brother. With them were dozens of oil paintings, watercolors, and drawings that they had planned to sell. It was to be the start of a new tour through the Americas that would expand his reputation. At the time, Minkowski already was known in Europe as a leading Jewish artist.

Minkowski’s works depict the suffering of Jews during the pogroms of Eastern Europe at the turn of the last century. As described by the Jewish Post, Minkowski painted about the “decadence of the human race, the social prejudices, the despair and frightening hopelessness of the Jewish refugees; a personal and a collective experience of the suffering and persecuted Jewish people.”

To get a sense of Minkowski’s paintings two examples are available online at The Jewish Museum in New York: After the Pogrom and He Cast a Look and Went Mad, both of which date from around 1910.

Minkowski, who lost his hearing as a child, was tragically killed while crossing a street in Buenos Aires just two months after his arrival.

His artwork remained in Buenos Aires. Minkowski himself was given a celebrity funeral and buried in the Jewish cemetery in Liniers in Buenos Aires.

Despite the public mourning by the Jewish community in Buenos Aires for the loss of Minkowski, sales of his artwork languished.Minkowski’s reputation started its long decline into obscurity. Ten years after his death his remaining artwork was purchased by the IWO where it remained for decades.

In some ironic way the 1994 bombing of the Jewish community center in Buenos Aires has helped resurrect awareness of Minkowski. Miraculously, 67 works by Minowski survived the bombing that July day on calle Pasteur.

One person who has worked diligently over the last ten years to highlight the work of this nearly forgotten artist is Stanford University librarian Zachary M. Baker who details the story in his excellent essay Art Patronage and Philistinism in Argentina: Maurycy Minkowski in Buenos Aires, 1930 published in Shofar: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Jewish Studies (19.3 (2001) 107-119).

“One of the ironies of Minkowski’s having died in a traffic accident in Buenos Aires was that it prevented him from returning to Europe. What fate would he have met there? Would his paintings have gone up in flames in the Warsaw Ghetto? On the other hand, had Minkowski gone ahead with his oft-expressed wish to settle in Palestine, he might have lived out his days there as an honored artist, with his best canvases gracing the galleries of every Israeli art museum–and reproductions of his most famous images appearing on Israeli postage stamps!”

One of the great, though often overlooked aspects of life, is our own wonderment about the lives of others. What do we really know about those whom we pass on the street, those who have lived in our apartments before us? Hardly anything. The story of Maurycy Minkowski reminds us about the mysteries and uncertainties that fate plays in the world. Someday I will need to make my own pilgrimage out to the cemetery in Liniers and pay my own respect to this Polish traveler who found himself in Buenos Aires 75 years ago. We never know where we will die, where we will remain, or whom will remember us long afterwards.

Murder at the Museum & Stolen Art

In what could be the core of a P.D. James novel, two unrelated events this week are the focus of the art world in Buenos Aires.

First, is the shocking double murder of a former director of the Metropolitan Museo and his brother-in-law, a current administrator of the museum, in the museum early Tuesday evening. It’s being called a murder-suicide revolving around a business issue.

The same day, a painting stolen 8 years ago from a private owner in Buenos Aires surfaced in New York City at a Christie’s auction. Two years after it was stolen, the Pedro Figari painting La Pica, also known as Corrida de Toros, was brought for $80,000 in Uruguay though it was not realized to be stolen at the time. The painting is being returned to its original owner. The person who paid $80k is out of luck.

Ah, what a good mystery writer could make of these two tales.