Orientation trips
The Mondriaan Fund organises orientation trips for visual artists and mediators to Asia, Latin America and Africa since 2004. The trips are aimed at exchange and cooperation between visual art professionals.

There may have been no better way to kick off our stay in Santiago de Chile than by having lunch at El Mercado Central, a busy and somewhat smelly local food market housed in a 19th century building with an impressive iron roof design. While sharing some delicious fish plates and nipping from a Cerveza Austral we started to realize that we – after an eighteen hours journey – had actually arrived in Chile. The strange sensation of experiencing an earthquake (5.3 on Richter scale according to the waiter!?) only made it more real…

Our first meeting was with Francisco Brugnoli, director of the Museum of Contemporary Art (MAC), Graciela Marín, press and communication officer of MAC, Roberto Farriol Gispert, director of the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, and his assistant Elizabeth Romero.

Francisco Brugnoli, who besides being a museum director is also an artist, spoke in a remarkably spirited way about the history and challenges the MAC has to deal with today. The museum is related to the University of Chile and is forced to depend on donations due to its lack of acquisition budget. Notwithstanding, the museum decided to open its doors to the public for free earlier this year (which lead to a 300% increase of visitors). The adjacent Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes (MNBA) does have a budget for acquisitions provided by the state and collects contemporary art as well. One can imagine that this causes a complex, presumably tensed and above all very inefficient situation between the two museums.

During a short presentation at MAC in Parque Forestal and a tour through the MNBA some interesting topics were raised. Contemporary art in Chile still deals with the trauma of Pinochet’s dictatorship (1973-1990), Francisco told me during our lunch. The youngest generations of artists however are reflecting more and more on the consumerist and hedonist aspects that characterize Chilean society nowadays. Having two cell phones is nothing unusual in Chile for example, nor is a household with over four televisions. Furthermore internet usage in Chile is the highest compared to other Latin American countries. The museum’s objective is to show art that reflects on such developments, as well as on other socio-cultural issues Chile is facing today.

Another aim of MAC is to bring international artists to the geographically isolated country. When we visited the museum work by David LaChapelle was presented. LaChapelle is still an extremely controversial artist for many Chileans. When talking to one of the curators I got the impression that his work was not merely selected for its artistic qualities, but rather for the show’s potential to loosen up the traditional and conservative expectations of the Chilean public, which is a third mission of MAC. A little outside the city center MAC has a second location, Quinta Normal, where a less touristic and more experimental program is presented.

In the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes the dictatorship is much more represented. After passing by a selection of religious paintings from the Spanish viceroyalties of the 18th and 19th century and a selection of works by 19th century traveller painters we entered an exhibition space dedicated to art related to negation, repression and violence. We saw photographic portraits of imprisoned women, native Chileans from the South and mentally ill people by Paz Errazuriz.

The existence of all these people, or groups, was denied during the dictatorship. The exhibition tries to recuperate this loss of memory and representation. The theme of the ‘ body’ turned out to be a recurring one. Many artists represented the body as a metaphor for visualizing, (indirectly) condemning and memorizing the torturing and violence that took place during the dictatorship. The artist Carlos Gallardo was (one of) the first who started working with this metaphor in his series A La Carne de Chile (1979). Of Eugenio Dittborn, known for his airmail paintings, we see a painting of a boxer lying passed out in a ring. His pieta-like composition clearly refers to the fallen bodies. Logically such paintings could not be shown in official museums during the dictatorship. Artists had to turn to alternative and dissident spaces such as Galería Sur, Taller de Artes Visuales and Galería Época. Chilean artists had to be very inventive in order to express their political stances without getting into trouble and only a selective group of people was able to read the works back then. The strong presence of literature (in a country that is known for its poets and oral tradition of the indigenous mapuche population) can be explained by this constraining context as well, as words, especially when used poetically, can bear so many encrypted messages. MNBA’s current acquisition policy therefore is, besides photography, focused on the cross-over of literature and visual art.

Madelon van Schie