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El Museo del Humor: Just for Laughs

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In Puerto Madero, the soaring skyscrapers now in fashion dwarf the Museo del Humor (Muhu), a light pink mansion playfully adorned with goat and barmaid statues. Though not among the titans of the Buenos Aires museum scene, the unique Muhu manages holds its own among its larger and better known peers. And just like its façade, it manages to do so with more than a little whimsy.

In a city famous for its wealth of fine arts offerings, the young Muhu is carving out a unique niche for itself in a rich—but often overlooked—artistic field: humour. Opened only last June, the museum features classic graphic humour, cartoon, comic strip, and animation art. The displays range from charming children’s illustrations to searingly critical political cartoons in a collection, comprised of both permanent and rotating exhibits, that provides something for all tastes. The institution is directed by five legends of the Argentine graphic humour world: Quino, Carlos Garaycochea, Manuel García Ferré, Guillermo Mordillo, and Hernenegildo Sábat.

Inside El Museo del humor in Puerto Madero (Photo by Helena Andell)

From the gallery walls, newspaper cartoon strips poke fun at anything from modern relationships to the influx of cultural influences from the US. A pensive Woody Allen and a giraffe-necked Luis Alberto “El Flaco” Spinetta look down on visitors from a caricature wall that brings to life international stars and Argentine treasures alike. A “mini” theatre offers seats aplenty for a looped screening of Guillermo Mordillo’s endearing wordless shorts that many visitors will recognise from years of broadcasting across the globe.

Political and societal drawings of the 19th century claim an entire room. Here, the works offer a retrospective more entertaining than many other historical texts, but often also just as insightful. A piece of parchment dating back to 1817 features South American revolutionary heroes José de San Martín and Bernardo O’Higgins as a drunk rabbit and a donkey, respectively. One frame displays Cesar Hipólito Bacle’s 1830s series of aristocratic ladies who, following the fashion of large hairpieces, were consequently blown away in the wind. One 1915 poster shows a dove struggling to take flight amidst a crowd of heavily-armed personified nations at war during World War I. The political and society commentary of the times will captivate history buffs, especially those familiar with revolutionary and early Argentine history.

The Muhu also runs educational and enrichment programming. For example, in “Humour Outside the Frame”, the museum invites one humour artist each month, be it a comic strip cartoonist or performance comedian, for an interview open to the public. Previous guests include Argentine artist Carlos Nine, Argentine comedian Délfor, and Paraguayan cartoon screenwriter Robin Wood. The museum has also hosted lectures and documentary screenings that offer audiences historical and biographical glimpses into the production of comedy.

Temporary exhibits, which allow a deeper study of particular artists, rotate frequently. The first floor currently houses “De Villa Pueyrredón al Mundo”, an entire room dedicated to artist Guillermo Mordillo, beloved around the world for his magazine covers, artwork, children’s illustrations, and animated cartoons. Each piece taps profound themes with invented creatures or animals cast in either overwhelming chaos or surrealistic simplicity. One frame shows a patient lying in a hospital bed squeezed in the lower right-hand corner, nightstand jiggling under the vibrations of his monitors. Overflowing the rest of the canvas is an intricately detailed jungle of tubes, plugs, cords, generators, and devices that dwarf the life they sustain. In another, a lone figure stands upon a planet barely large enough for his feet. He stares forlornly up into the darkness of the canvas holding a single lit match. Mordillo is fond of jungles, outer space, and machinery, adding to the overall infantile tone of his work. Mordillo’s alternate use of noise and silence provoke reflection; his whimsical style renders it universal.

Whether for the jokes, the art, the history, or the stories, the Muhu offers an entertaining museum experience for just about everyone. A visit this summer (aim to go before the Mordillo exhibit’s departure in early March) is well worth it both for the chuckles and for the reflections they provoke.

Av. De los Italianos 851 (Puerto Madero) 4516-0944/49
Mon-Fri 11am-6pm; Sat, Sun, and holidays 10am-8pm.
Admission: Thurs-Sun and holidays: $10, Mon-Wed: free. Children under 14 enter without charge.
“De Villa Pueyrredón al Mundo” will be on display until 6th March 2013.
At least basic command of Spanish recommended. Fluency and familiarity with Argentine history and culture are helpful for many works.
For more information, please visit: http://www.museos.buenosaires.gob.ar/muhu/index.html.

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