El arte de Buenos Aires

So we’ve just booked flights for our next adventure (whoohooo), so I need to do some catch-up bloggin’ on the last one!

Back to our Christmas / New Years’ trip… After Uruguay, we headed to beautiful Buenos Aires. I’m sure you’d expect me to be writing about the amazing steak and tango shows, (and yes they were totes fab), but I’m not going to dwell on the clichés. We had a great night watching Tango at a place that showcased classic and modern interpretations on the famously sensual dance, and yes we ate a lot of really really delicious cow (it’s making me hungry just thinking about it again!).

Instead I’d like to tell you about art in Buenos Aires, and I don’t just mean paintings hung in a gallery, rather ‘art’ in the loose sense; the way Porteños (Buenos Aires residents) express themselves aesthetically – that’s what really enthralled me about the city.

Street art

We stayed with friends from London, Andrew and Veronica, in an apartment in the bohemian and rough-around-the-edges San Telmo. San Telmo is a beautiful if slightly grubby part of Buenos Aires, with old colonial style buildings, traditional markets and quirky cafés, restaurants and bars on basically every street.  It’s also covered in graffiti / street art – if you’re thinking Shoreditch, then think scruffier….and grafitier. And when I say covered in street art, I mean, like really covered….

I’m often in two minds about street art. There’s a fine line (and varying opinions) between beautiful, pure self-expression a la Banksy, and just defacing old buildings. The juxtaposition between the classical colonial architecture and the modern grimy graffiti is stark, but the city doesn’t just belong to the past, does it? The current residents have clearly staked their claim. Their humour, passions, allegiances (usually football related), frustrations and anger all reflected on the side of their buildings.

La Boca

One of the first places we went to on our whirlwind tour (yes on a tourist bus!) was La Boca. The port-side barrio is famous for its colourful galvanised houses. The story goes that dock workers painting ships by day would take home leftover paint to spruce up their homes. These individual house-proud actions developed into an eclectic kaleidoscope of façades. I love the sense of pride for one’s community that sparked this, which has now evolved into a sense of entrepreneurship – everyone here is looking to make a quick buck out of the tourists pouring through by the bus load!

La cementerio de la Recoleta

Yes, I’m talking about a cemetery; and yes, we visited a graveyard in BA, but every tourist does. It’s more of a miniature city of monuments than anything else; criss-crossing cobbled streets and all. The mausoleums are works of art in their own right with beautiful marble sculptures of angels, saints and loved ones lost.

Where the rich and famous of Buenos Aires are laid to rest, this place is incredibly beautiful, full of history, and yet so odd… It’s basically an aesthetic expression of wealth and status, with the Ancient Egyptian style egoism of leaving one’s immortal mark looming on the world. People have fought and campaigned to have their loved ones buried there. You ain’t nobody unless you end up here, dead. In a way, artistically, it’s the polar opposite of the street art on the other side of town, speaking for the oppressed and powerless.

Arty art

At the very end of our trip (after visiting Iguazu waterfalls – next blog) we had a four-hour connection back in Buenos Aires and stopped off at the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes (National Museum of Fine Art).

If you’re visiting BA and are even vaguely interested in art, you must go. They have an impressive collection of international art including Picasso, van Gogh, Degas, Kandinsky and Pollock. But I came here to see Argentinian art. I loved how the gallery is curated, presenting the way that Argentinian art has responded and contributed to global art movements, and how artists have used their work to document and add to the country’s (often heated and violent) political discourse.

Steven and I both really loved “Elevadores a Pleno Sol” painted in 1945 by Benito Quinquela Martín, famous for his paintings of the port at La Boca. With the factories churning out smoke, and every figure hunched over at work, you really get a sense of their relentless toil and hardship. At the same time the colour and vibrancy of the boats and docks at La Boca shines through – the precursor to the colourful façades we admired in La Boca at the beginning of our trip – a full circle.

I could babble on for another four pages, but I’ll spare the few of you still reading, and stop here. Art makes me happy. I’m feeling inspired and it’s time to pick up my paintbrushes again….

Love from Lima xxx


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