Little road that time has erased, yet the art you hold lets history and culture endure
I’m currently enrolled in a class entitled “Arte y Cultura Visual en América Latina” taught by a lovely professor who also teaches art history at la Universidad de Buenos Aires
(UBA). Every week we visit a museum in the city to experience directly the art we’re studying at the time. Thus far we’ve explored colonial art, castas
paintings, the beginnings of Romanticism and landscape painting, and are moving on to the start of the twentieth century. And Buenos Aires is filled with this art and much more in various locations and museums throughout the capital. Exactly where the art is housed is inevitably art itself.
How galleries are organized is a technical art, and the buildings that act as museums are architecture, and thus also art (a favorite in the city so far is Museo de Arte Hispanoamericano Isaac Fernández Blanco
, which used to be the Blanco family mansion; a beautiful building of neocolonial style with a glorious patio one could spend hours in). The walls of buildings, even when they’re not museums, can house public art, as is the case with graffiti. Having been to a slew of large cities in the states known for their graffiti (New York, Chicago, Austin) I can honestly say that the graffiti here in Buenos Aires is unrivaled by any other city I have been to (I’m not going to discuss this in my post, but to see what I mean, check out Gaby’s post
on the brilliance of street art in this city). The best and most unique example, in my opinion, true to Buenos Aires life and culture that is both art and the housing of art is Caminito
in the barrio
of La Boca
, where the houses are
Caminito today is an incredibly touristy area that is a quintessential, postcard image for the city of Buenos Aires. What many people do not know beyond it being a stretch of brightly painted houses is that Caminito is actually a museum, a street museum (una calle museo
). Caminito itself in Spanish means “little path” because it occurs in an alley / small, pedestrian street in La Boca. I previously had no concept of what a street museum was before visiting Caminito, and frankly had never heard of one anywhere else before. There’s no entry of any sorts, and there is no label anywhere explaining that it is a museum. There are simply the houses, and signs labeling all shops and restaurants are solely marked as being located in Caminito. Stranger yet, beyond the houses, the entire walkway acts as an artisan market (or really, since so many of the items resemble souvenirs, perhaps more of a ‘gift shop’). So people are selling art, while amongst the art (the houses), and more often than not the art is of the art (the paintings one can buy are of Caminito). So it acts as a museum, albeit a very informal one, because there is art everywhere.
So just as Botton describes how van Gogh’s paintings could easily lead someone to want to travel to Provence, the images I was exposed to (mostly photographs) of Caminito lead me straight to La Boca as a place to see. What is interesting about Caminito, however, is that the images that came before it and the art that is all about it helped shape and create what Caminito is today, which is a different take on what Botton discusses, for how could van Gogh’s paintings change the cypresses and fields in the countryside of France?
European immigrants flocked to La Boca and made it the first real barrio
of Buenos Aires in the nineteenth century. It eventually became a poor man’s land, yet still full of cultural significance because of the mix of backgrounds present in a confined area. The neighborhood was restored by a local artist in the 1950’s, giving it its unique style that eventually lead for it to be commissioned by the city government as a street museum. One of the most famous songs in tango history is titled Caminito
, written by Gabino Coria Peñazola (and was eventually recorded by Argentina’s most famous tango singer, Carlos Gardel
), whose bust rests on a platform against one of the walls of the houses. So the song and the photographs on the postcards drew me here. Despite how kitschy it may seem and how crowded it is with foreigners during the day, I still find Caminito to be the most interesting example of art in Buenos Aires, and sincere to the city’s past of mixing cultures and social struggles, and, of course, what may be the only street museum in the world.