Sunday, 21 December 2008


I decide Saturday is gallery day. I head for Malba, as it's recommended by the guide book; a fine modern building with a well-displayed private collection of 20th century South American art. The prize piece is a Frida Kahlo self-portrait with monkey, but more recent work stood out too, particularly several by Helio Oiticica. Looking around reminds me a bit of visiting the Museum of Contemporary Art in New Delhi: the influences of European modernism are strong. Some small watercolours by Alejandro Xul Solar caught my eye, suggesting a language of dreams, preceding rational structures, and he turns out to have spent some years in Europe in the early 20th century and to have been a friend of Borges. His house in Buenos Aires is now a museum.

I discover that the Museo de Arte Decorativo, the V&A of BsAs, is a short walk away, an extraordinary mansion of huge decorated rooms housing a collection that varies from Louis XV inlaid cabinets to a stunning Manet and a Rodin maquette in bronze.

While there I overhear a conversation and realise that the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes is another short walk away. The ground floor is Argentina's National Gallery, with at least one piece by more or less everyone. A wonderful El Greco, and a surprising room of Goya paintings, with a small collection of the etchings too. The modern collection is eclectic; Van Gogh, Gaugin, a Cezanne watercolour, Klee, Kandinsky, Picasso, even a Dor Maar, who of course grew up here. Always good to see Picasso's 1937 etching Sueño y mentira de Franco, a corrosively funny and bitter take on military dictatorships everywhere. The collection is mainly interesting but not well-known pieces. Didn't notice a Matisse. Upstairs is the BsAs Tate: a big collection of 20th century Latin American art, including, side-by-side, Dora Carrington, Leonora Fini and Remedios Vara. & Diego Revera, of course. So I found a big smile on my face as I left.

All this in the open park where Palermo heads towards the river, big trees, public sculpture, football being played in the noon sun, while I calculate the shortest distance from one patch of shade to the next.

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