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  • Writer's pictureTim and Lindsey

Art and Water in Buenos Aires - Day 441

I have some questions for you if you are into art. I’d love to hear your thoughts about Art Museums. Today was all about Art and Water in Buenos Aires.

It was a fun packed day of Water and Art, so packed that I’m not going to write a chronological description of the day. It would be too long-winded. So, let’s start with water.

In my research of Buenos Aires, I came across an intriguing building; The Palace of Flowing Waters (Palacio de Aguas Corrientes). It is a water pumping station opened in 1894 and reminds me of the many Victorian follies that we have in the UK. When we lived in Stoke Newington, NE London, nearby was a castle that looked as if it should be in the middle of the Scottish highlands with its turrets and crenellations. This also was a water pumping station built nearly 40 years earlier.

I wonder if the Argentinians got the idea from Britain of having such a grand façade to the much-needed sanitation building. It wouldn’t surprise me. Much of the materials used for the beautiful exterior, including enamel terracotta bricks and pottery, was from England’s Royal Doulton & Co. and Burmantofts Co. of Leeds. Such an eclectic style with turrets, domes, columns, stain-glass windows, emblems of fleur-de-lys and shields of various provinces in bright blue, one with a sun above and ships painted in the middle. A work of great architecture and art, no wonder the building was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1987.

We rushed in for the 11am tour. Why are we often running late? We had plenty of time in the morning, but I do get a bit carried away with my writing! The ground floor was like any water company office, with people queuing to pay their bills or complain about their supply. We went in the lift, which looked like the original and it got stuck, luckily only for a few moments. The tour had just started, but it was in Spanish. No surprise there!

We decided to look at the museum ourselves. The central interior is such a contrast to the exterior. Huge metal industrial beams, columns and trusses were supporting the 12 water tanks that can contain 72 million litres of water. We finished our tour of taps, toilets, pottery and admiring one of the largest cast iron structures in South America well before the tour was halfway through. There were quite a number of glazed looks on the faces of the audience!

Another water connection was to see an incredible sculpture in the United Nations Plaza. George and Laura recommended us to see it and so glad they did. The Floralis Genérica is a 23m high flower made from steel and aluminium in the middle of a large pond, well, it would have to be large, wouldn’t it! Its six massive petals reach to the sky, reflecting the rays of the sun and at the right location we could then see the four beautiful, yet simple stamens curved up.

I didn’t realise at the time, but the artwork has an electrical system which automatically opens and closes the large petals each day according to the daylight hours and strength of the wind. At night, there is a red glow from the inside. When the flower opens, the Argentine architect Eduardo Catalano who gifted this to the city said that this represents hope reborn every day. That’s lovely.

Now onto more Art. We might have overdone it. My eyes were glazing over like the audience at the Water Palace by the end! We first visited the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes (National Museum of Fine Arts), a short walk from our accommodation then later walked to the Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires (Latin American Art Museum of Buenos Aires) known as MALBA.

The first art museum had an incredible collection of the top artworks from the Middle Ages up to the 20th century. Not just important Argentine painters such as Antonio Berni, Xul Solar, and more of Benito Quinquela Martin, (read yesterday’s muse) but also a fabulous collection of 19th century European Art, which is my favourite period especially the Impressionism and Post-Impressionism period.

There was a fabulous Paul Gauguin painting “Woman of the Sea”. I love the boldness, the simplicity. Even though on first glance, there isn’t much content, the more I stood there and looked, the more I saw; the shapes of the frothy waves, the material on her knee, the beauty of her muscles, the unusual posture...

What are your tips for walking around an art museum? Sometimes Tim and I walk around together, as we did in MALBA, but in the National Museum, we didn’t. I’m not keen on the renaissance period, so went around much quicker than Tim. I’ve learnt to be quite selective at what I look at; otherwise I feel overwhelmed, and it all becomes a haze. If an artwork catches my eye, I stop and let the feeling sink in. What is it that I like, or sometimes don’t like? How do I feel about the content and the composition? I look at the technique, perspective and lighting that the artist has used. What can I learn from this? I’d love to hear your tips. No doubt we will be walking around a few more Art Museums and Galleries along our journey, and we both enjoy learning.

On the ground floor, there was a fascinating exhibition of Auguste Rodin’s sculptures, including an unfinished project called “The Gates of Hell” which was inspired by Dante’s The Divine Comedy (these poems have already popped up on our trip here in Buenos Aires!). Despite the project never coming to fruition, Rodin still modelled over 200 figures and enlarged some that became famous in their own right, such as The Kiss and The Thinker.

Up on another floor was an exhibition of 85 watercolours by William Turner, borrowed from the Tate Gallery and bringing together various periods of his work. The lighting was quite dark, and I’m not much of a fan of his work. I watched a pleasant video from Mike Chaplin looking at Turner’s sunset, uncomplicated, yet so effective. Chaplin then has a go himself by the Thames.

Onto the MALBA. In 2001, businessman Eduardo Costantini donated his art collection of over 220 internationally prestigious Latin American art pieces to form this not-for-profit Art museum. The mission is to “to collect, preserve, research and promote Latin American art from the onset of the 20th century to the present”.

The highlight for both of us was the exhibition of Pablo Suárez’s avant-garde work. His work is a mix of paint and sculpture with various themes; neat painting of plants on tables; nude male bodies (which makes a change) and some showing his great sense of humour, including two snakes watching a TV and a man clinging onto the outside of a train with his eyes nearly popping out.

The rest of the museum gave us a journey through the last hundred years of Latin American art. I do like Xul Solar’s work, the colours he used, the structure and various celestial elements. He sounds like he was an interesting guy, creating two languages; Neo-Criollo, a hybrid of Spanish and Portuguese with a few other European language influences plus Pan Lengua, a grammatically simplified language incorporating art, numbers, music and astrology. He also conjured up different ideas for football, chess and musical scales. One of those people who would be fascinating at a dinner party, don’t you think?

Our last stop was in the basement, with a few concrete arches propped up with bricks, one painted gold. Sorry, I just don’t get this type of art. What am I missing? What am I not understanding? Please enlighten me.

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