Museum Night in La Plata

La Plata skyline

I spent a day and a half this past weekend in La Plata, the capital of Buenos Aires province (separate from the city) and–in the words of a friend–Argentina’s version of Madison, Wisconsin. It was great. The city’s small enough to be tranquil but large and student-filled enough (it’s home to one of the country’s best universities) to be cosmopolitan and fun. It was planned in the late 19th century to be a model city; its streets are arranged in a perfect grid overloaded with parks, plazas, and public monuments. It’s also home to some solid museums, all of which were open late, and free, during this past Saturday’s Noche de los Museos (Museum Night). Here’s a recent post I wrote about it for Juanele’s blog.

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Palacio Municipal

After nearly a year and a half spent in Argentina, I finally made the 12-peso bus trip to La Plata this past weekend. This small city of half a million is no Buenos Aires; however, its status as capital of the country’s most populous province endows it with a cultural punch well above its weight class — something particularly evident during this past Saturday’s Noche de los Museos. A friend living in La Plata told me about this event late last week. Its promise of five hours to roam the city’s museums and cultural sites free of charge piqued my interest enough to draw me down from Buenos Aires.

My friend and I began our night with a visit to La Plata’s most famous museum, the Museo de La Plata. This natural science museum opened its doors in 1888, and the whole place is one ornate monument to 19th century science — while some galleries have been redone, you

get the sense that many others haven’t changed much these past 120 years. Gigantic whale skeletons hang from the ceiling in one room. In another, armies of tiny taxidermied mammals in wooden cases greet visitors with some fantastically twisted facial expressions. A few darkened galleries had been transformed into interactive scavenger hunts for this past Saturday’s event, and while screechy kid-voices and errant flashlight beams may not have facilitated careful study, they did bring me back, Tim Burton-like, to some childhood museum trips of my own.

Just across the park at number 320 on Calle 53, the Le Corbusier-designed Casa Curutchet beckoned. Along with Harvard’s Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts, it’s one of two Corbusier constructions in the Americas. The house was designed in 1948 to house both the family and medical practice of one Dr. Curutchet. Today, it’s owned by the Buenos Aires provincial society of architects. While the lack of period furnishings hamper the experience a bit (the rooms are nearly empty), the building’s horizontal orientation and “wow-look-at-how-I-can-support-this-whole-giant-concrete-house-on-just-a-few-tiny-columns” central courtyard justify a visit.

Next we were off to the Museo Provincial de Bellas Artes “Emilio Pettoruti” in La Plata’s downtown. A small space, it currently hosts two half-gallery exhibitions (one of art from La Boca and another of work by artists from metropolitan Buenos Aires), plus a small textile installation by Rosarito Salgado. While much of the work on display is forgettable, I enjoyed Santiago Garcia Pilotto’s paint and photo-collage contributions.

A few blocks away, the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo Latinoamericano (MACLA) features five generously sized galleries straddling both sides of the entrance to the gorgeous Pasaje Dardo Rocha cultural center. (From what I can tell, the building — also home to the Museo Municipal de Bellas Artes, some art and theater schools, and public conference rooms — is on the sharp edge of La Plata cool.)

Though it’s small, MACLA seems to mount ambitious but visitor-friendly modern and contemporary shows, like the museum’s current exhibition of posters, research, and artwork from Lirolay, Buenos Aires’ leading gallery for young, contemporary art in the 1960s. Emilio Renart’s giant “Bicosmic Integralism No. 3,” known elsewhere by more vulgar names, is a highlight of the exhibit.

La Plata’s just an hour away — go ahead, make the trip!

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