Buenos Aires Museums: MALBA

Buenos Aires may be in the antipodes for North American and European visitors, but a visit to MALBA affirms that when it comes to modern art we really do live in a global village.

The Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires showcases the work of artists from the Spanish-speaking New World and, while many of the idioms have European accents, the quality reveals that South America is no mere artistic backwater.

Thanks to a smashing building by a trio of local architects, Gastón Atelman, Martín Fourcade, and Alfredo Tapia, the museum is a bright and airy jewel box for the art on display and the ambiance contributes a great deal to the pleasure of a visit.

There is always a major temporary exhibit and in early 2011 it was devoted to Argentine artist Marta Minujín who lives in Buenos Aires. Born in 1941, Minujín had by the time she was 20 developed into an abstract artist of remarkable self-assurance. In fact, her early works – encrusted canvases reminiscent of Antoni Tapies and jet black collages of cardboard and wood that would have done Louise Nevelson proud – were for me the highlights of the exhibition.

Then she traveled to Paris and the United States, where she became buddies with Andy Warhol and Allen Ginsberg among others.

Minujín breathed deeply of the intoxicating atmosphere of the era and apparently never exhaled. She enthusiastically embraced a “hippie” persona and for the next decades her work consisted largely of ephemeral “happenings” and other public events, which are here documented on film and via a few reconstructions.

Having lived through the Sixties and attended a few happenings, I can attest that they were a lot more fun and seemed a lot more significant than the grainy black and white footage on offer here would lead you to believe. And I think those who didn’t live through the Sixties will be surprised to see how “straight” most people looked and dressed back then.

But Minujín was obviously having a great time and that enjoyment comes through in this nicely thought out retrospective.

The second floor houses “Works from the Collection” and functions as a whirlwind survey of Latin American art from the late 19th century to the present. I wished they had several more floors to devote to the effort.

There are some familiar names here, like Kahlo, Rivera, and Botero, but sadly only a single work by each. Better represented are Argentinians like Alejandro Xul Solar, an enchanting fabulist who flourished in the 1920s and Antonio Berni whose style evolved from gritty social realism in the manner of the greater Mexican muralists to antic works of great humor all the while retaining a sharp social conscience.

Pablo Reinoso's Enredamaderas is part of his "spaghetti bench" series.

But perhaps the most popular item in the museum (to judge by the number of people using it as a prop for photographs) is Pablo Reinoso’s Enredamaderas, which is part of his “spaghetti bench” series.

The term is apt. The piece consists of a slatted bench (yes, you can sit on it) much like any slatted bench, but where most benches end, this one extends its slats like the tendrils of a particularly aggressive vine. They droop onto the floor, climb the wall and then cascade down the side of the museum’s atrium to coalesce and form another slatted bench on the floor below. It’s a hoot and, unfortunately, only on display until April 2011.

The museum also hosts regular film showings in its auditorium, with a mixture of Argentine and international fare. There is a sleek café, which includes an elegant, bamboo-fringed outdoor terrace, and a shop with a small selection of arty objects and much larger collection of art books.

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Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires (MALBA)
Av. Figueroa Alcorta 3415, Palermo, Buenos Aires
http://www.malba.org.ar

Open daily except Tuesday, noon to 8:00 p.m.
Wednesday until 9:00 p.m.

Admission (in pesos)
Adults: $22
Seniors (65+): $11
Students: $11
On Wednesdays, $10 ($5 for seniors, free for students)

Guided tours are available in Spanish and English
by appointment. Call +54 (11) 4808-6541 or
educacion@malba.org.arMALBA

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