Buenos Aires Museums: Museo de Bellas Artes

A short stroll from the Recoleta Cemetery and the Hard Rock Café (there’s a combo for you!), across Avenida del Libertador, lies the imposing hulk of the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes (the National Museum of Fine Arts).

Inside lies an embarrassment of riches that’s not to be missed.

One of my favorite things to do while traveling is to look for works of favorite European and American artists that have found their way to far flung corners of the globe, and the Museo de Bellas Artes doesn’t disappoint.

On the first floor, to the right as you enter, is a gallery of twentieth century art housing such familiar names as Degas, de Chirico, Modigliani, Chagall, Leger, Rousseau, and others. There are even a few Picassos, although not his best work. More recent artists include Pollack, Nevelson, and the Catalan Tapies.

But there is much else to discover here, much of which will no doubt be unfamiliar.

A perfect example is a medieval European polychrome wooden bust of a bishop. It’s one of those works of art, startling in its realism, that reaches across the centuries and grabs you by the throat.

The second floor is given over to Argentine and South American art divided, roughly, into the old and the new. In the decidedly “old” category is a small collection of Pre-Columbian art that you might overlook. Don’t.

Especially arresting here are the ceramics of the Condorhuasi culture and some textile pieces that are astounding not simply for their beauty but for their mere survival.

The collection of twentieth century Argentine art is extensive and great fun. It’s like stepping into a parallel universe of abstract art, oddly familiar and yet distinct. As at MALBA, my eyes were drawn to works by Xul Solar and Berni, two artists who deserve to be better known abroad.

There’s far too much here to absorb on a single visit but since the museum is free there’s no need to try. If you’ll be in Buenos Aires for an extended time, plan on coming back a few times.

There is no café in the museum itself, but if you leave and walk around to the back of the building you will find Modena, a Ferrari-themed bar and restaurant with deliciously comfortable chairs inside in which to sink and sip a restorative glass of Malbec while pontificating about all the great art you’ve just seen.

Museo National de Bellas Artes
Avenida del Libertador 1473

Tuesday to Friday 12:30pm to 8:30pm
Weekend 9:30am to 8:30pm
Free admission