The Museo de Bellas Artes, a true Buenos Aires classic, is going through some pretty exciting changes. After a major renovation project back in August 2015, the museum looks brand new. So new in fact that getting around it can be a challenge for those of us lacking a solid sense of direction. Fear not, here’s what you know in order to not wind up in the same room over and over again.
When you go up to the first floor, enter the first room in front of you. This is Room 33, (featured on this map) it is dedicated entirely to the work of Antonio Berni. From this starting point turn left, and continue turning left as you take in the pieces on display until you end up at Berni again. Voilá! You’ve covered the first floor.
Even if you do get a bit lost, it’s not the end of the world. These rooms, which used to be full of Argentine art exclusively, now feature a mix of local and European art. The collections are organized varying relationships between the pieces instead of by chronology. The works featured in every room have something pulling them together, be it the time period when they were created or the themes they deal with. It’s not a conventional setup and that’s a good thing. Under this scheme each room can be enjoyed on its own.
Fun Tip For Room 36
This room is reserved for kinetic and optical art you can interact with. Don’t be put off by the standard museum “don’t touch” rule. If you don’t touch the art here, it won’t work. There’s a beautiful piece by Gyula Kosice just waiting for you to flip its switch and get the water in it running. The real tip here is to check for switches that might turn on lights or get gears going.
The Can’t Miss List
Visiting the MNBA is a solid (not to mention free) starting point for those looking to bolster their cocktail party talking points. Here are a couple “musts” to throw on your itinerary.
First, the room that started it all: room 33. The one entirely dedicated to Antonio Berni’s work. Berni is one of Argentina’s most important and recognizable artists. The museum houses some of his best work, most of which are associated with a movement called “New Realism”, which is an extension of social realism and explains all the sad faces in his work.
Other notable Argentine artists with work on display in the MNBA, include modernists Xul Solar, Emilio Pettoruti (one of the many artists who caused a scandal with a cubist exhibition in the ’20s, a time when people were afraid of geometry apparently), Benito Quinquela Martín (port painter extraordinaire) and Raquel Forner, one of the few women featured at the museum. You can find these guys in rooms 30, 29 and 28.
Moving to international artists, the museum has paintings by post-war North American artists like Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko (there’s a red piece by him that will remind Mad Men fans of Bert Cooper’s puzzled face while looking at his own Rothko). There’s also an impressive collection of paintings by Edouard Manet, Claude Monet, Edgar Degas and Vincent Van Gogh, as well as a sculpture by Auguste Rodin. For more recommendations, you can check out what the museum calls The Collection Highlights or you can go around the museum during one of its many English guided tours, and get even more fodder for your conversational conquest.
Summer Agenda: Roberto Plate and Workshops
When you enter the Bellas Artes, you’ll come across two elevators. Running the risk of ruining a surprise, suffice it to say that their function might not be what you expect. The elevators are part of the new exhibit by Argentine artist Roberto Plate, which opened January 12th and runs until March 27th. Although the exhibit was planned by Marcela Cardillo, former director of the museum, the current director of the museum, Andrés Duprat agreed to start his time with the MNBA.
Plate is a very meta artist, as evidenced by the installation “Reflections”, which features a giant brush over a pool of water with paintings of different colored strokes all around the room, all of which gets reflected in the water below the installation. Additional fun fact, this is the first installation to ever use water at the MNBA. Be sure not to miss his other installation, “Public bathrooms”, which was originally set up in 1968 during Onganía’s de facto government and has fascinating back story.
There is also a series of workshops available this summer, which range from learning how to make instruments out waste to making your own versions of pieces from the museums’ collection. You can check out this extensive guide for workshops and seminars for more information.
Things To Come
Duprat has some lofty and exciting plans for the MNBA. To kick things off, he intends to restore the museum so that new spaces can be opened up. At the moment it doesn’t have an auditorium, bar or bookstore, so there are no recreational areas. Creating them will require a lot of redesigning, lucky for us Duprat seems up for the challenge.
Another rumored plan is to get the many paintings that are not on display at the museum moving. Like most museums, only about 10% of the MNBA’s collection are available to the general public. Duprat’s idea is to find a way to set up exhibitions in museums all across the country to give those paintings a chance to be seen.
Lastly, there’s a very good chance the exhibit following Roberto Plate will be one on Mexican murals. Meant to open in Chile in 1973, the exhibition was shut down as an act of censorship by the Chilean dictatorship. The collection is still in Chile, waiting for its long overdue display, and will probably be heading our way soon after.