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Museo Nacional de Arte Decorativo: A Slice of Europe in South America

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Those who have experienced the crazy offers of contemporary arts and mix of styles in the city of Buenos Aires, might be surprised with the ‘traditional’ spirit of the Museo Nacional de Arte Decorativo (MNAD), which takes its visitors back to 19th century Europe.

Museo Nacional de Arte Decorativo

Strategically well located at the cross section of Av Libertador and Billinghurst, the museum stands out for its impressive architecture and reminds me of a palace at first glance.

Understanding the concept and objectives of MNAD requires learning its history and that of its founders, the families Errázuriz and Alvear. Josefina de Alvear and Matías Errázuriz Ortúzar married in Buenos Aires and spent 11 years in France serving as diplomats. Those years significantly influenced the family, as they gathered a great collection of art in Europe and Asia.

When the family returned to Argentina, Josefina initiated a project to build a residence and invited a French architect René Sergent to help. After a series of challenges related to the First World War, the residence was successfully inaugurated, and shortly after became a centre for the city’s elite. With the death of Josefina in 1935, her husband and children offered the entire residence to the state, insisting on converting it into a museum. The government accepted the offer and under the Law 12351 it bought the residence with all its collections, and named it Museo Nacional de Arte Decorativo on 18th December 1937.

The building of MNAD consists of three floors, each one with a different function. The ground and principal floor possesses a big space centred on the ball room that is part luxurious baroque epoch and part elegant rococo. The wooden curves placed as great design features remind of the typical castles of Loire. Mirrors and a couple of massive art sculpture amplify the dance floor used by the sociable porteños at the beginning of 20th century.

The first floor somehow hides the social and attractive part of the museum from the former private apartments of Errázuriz-Alvear family members. Every person in the family owned a personal living space, with a bedroom, dressing room, bathroom and toilette at his or her disposal. Grand furniture and intense deep colours in every room draw comparisons with Versailles, where the general darkness of the space is compensated by the quantity of art objects and little accessories spread all around.

The nearby Zubov Room, called after the Countess Rosario S. de Zubov, which comes with an impressive collection of European portraits, could easily belong either to the museum of Czartoryski in Poland, or to the Russian Hermitage or to Museo del Prado in Madrid.

The gallery of tapestries decorates three walls that surround the ball room from above. French and Flemish works of 16-19th centuries take entire walls and confuse with the complexity of their styles and actual images.

Finally, the underground floor is given to contemporary art exhibitions that take place frequently in MNAD. The most recent one is the called ‘Fantasies and reality in MNAD’ by Argentine illustrator Dolores Avendaño, whose fame is directly connected with her work on the Spanish edition of ‘Harry Potter’ by J.K. Rowling. After concentrating on huge sculptures and sophisticated visual pieces upstairs it feels refreshing to see childish and innocent works. Avendaño plays with the elegancy and solemnity of the museum and places her heroes next to the art objects, making them protagonists of those important events and gatherings of the 19-20th centuries.

“We’ve got a lot of important tasks to complete, and one of them was to reconstruct the façade above the garden,” says Alberto Bellucci, the director of MNAD for the last 22 years. He talks about the museum, as if it were his house. “This complex project has taken several years and was completed in phases until its successful inauguration in November. As a national museum we’ve got a lot of support from both national and city government, however, it’s never enough for all the projects we run. This is why we have a network of corporate and individual contributors and also Asociación Amigos del Museo, an entity that has been supporting MNAD since 1964 in areas of consultancy, finances and others. Everybody can become a contributor and a friend of the museum.”

These friends include world famous artists, politicians, and sports stars who signed the visitors book in the last 25 years. To keep them coming, Bellucci says he wants to make MNAD feel more like a home than a musuem – it seem like he is on track.

MNAD is open from Tuesday to Sunday 2pm to 7pm. It will be closed from 24 December to 14 January 2013. Summer courses start on 9 January and 7 February and annual courses open their subscriptions on 14 January. Entrace: $10.

Besides its exhibitions, MNAD runs educational and cultural activities, inviting famous artists and participating in the city agenda. For more information visit the website: http://www.mnad.org/

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