On Friday we were walking through Palermo Chico and around the embassies when we came across Victoria Ocampo’s house in Palermo. It’s not as well known as Villa Ocampo, her home in San Isidro, but has its own interesting history. The house is now the Casa de la Cultura del Fondo Nacinal de las Artes and can be visited by the public. Located at Rufino de Elizalde 2831, the house is right next to the Spanish Embassy and across from Plaza Chile.

The most striking aspect of the house is its modernist style, especially considering the typical architecture of Buenos Aires.

The house looks more like Miami Beach than Buenos Aires. The juxtaposition of the house next to the Spanish Embassy and the other palatial residences is a strong architectural statement that befits a woman like Victoria Ocampo, 39 years old when she built the house.

The architectural appearance of the house is even more astonishing when you realize that it was built in 1929. Victoria Ocampo herself designed the house, though she hired the famed Argentine architect Alejandro Bustillo to build it. The story is that Bustillo so disliked the house that he refused to put his name on it. A more typical Bustillo design, just down the street, is the Belgian Embassy, which was built a year after the Ocampo house.

Modern sculpture is now positioned around the exterior of the house and the inside provides space for exhibitions and presentations. A very good small exhibition of large works by the artist Carlos Alonso is now on display till 23 September 2005. (I’ll have to write more about Carlos Alonso in a later post). Carlos Alonso’s work is wonderful, so this is a good time to visit the Ocampo house.

Considering that Victoria Ocampo lived in this house for 12 years, the house itself also played an important role in the development of literary culture in Buenos Aires. The house was the location for the party that launched Ocampo’s literary journal Sur in 1931.

In Williamson’s biography of Borges (Borges: A Life), the photo from that party at the Ocampo house is described as follows:

Borges appears not to have relished the occasion. In a group photograph taken at the party, we find Oliverio Girondo at the center of the front row, relaxing with a big cigar, but Borges is standing on the left-hand corner at the back, and he is plainly ill at ease, looking askance at the camera, with eyes narrowed against the smoke of a scruffy cigarette stuck in his mouth.

Borges apparent foul mood isn’t over the house or his host Ocampo but directed at Girondo and their ongoing battle over the affection of Norah Lange. See my earlier post on that topic.