Welcome to Santiago de Chile. Pictured is Santiago’s business district, also known as Sanhattan (a conflation of Santiago and Manhattan). Sanhattan has the feel of a European or North American urban center, a result of Chile’s status as one of the most stable and prosperous countries in Latin America. But, as in most of the region, inequality is rampant and continues to grow, due in large part to disparities within—and migration from—neighboring countries.
The Palacio de la Moneda. It was here that on September 11, 1973, a U.S.-supported military coup d’etat against democratically elected socialist president Salvador Allende took place. What followed was 17 years of dictatorship, repression, and “stability” under general Augusto Pinochet, whose rule ended only in 1990.
Taken at the Palacio de la Moneda on September 30, 1998, this photograph depicts (from left to right) Diego Fernández, Felipe Mujica, and Joe Villablanca of cult late-’90s artists’ group Galería Chilena with the then president of Chile, Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle (second from left) in his office. Frei, whose father was president in the ’60s, was the second democratically elected president in Chile after the end of the dictatorship. For artists to have had their photograph taken with a president would have been unthinkable under Pinochet, when they were considered communists and enemies of the state.
On my first night in Santiago, I was taken out to dinner at a restaurant called Les Assassins, which has been serving French food since 1965. During the dictatorship, Les Assassins was a meeting place for bohemians and intellectuals, and as the dictatorship “disappeared” its citizens, nobody in the government appeared to notice that the restaurant’s very name was a condemnation of their actions. I dined here just a few weeks after the fortieth anniversary of the coup, and a friend told me: “We are very tired, I’ve been crying a lot for the past few weeks. Today, one can’t continue to deny that the state committed terrorist acts against its own citizens.”
The Museo de la Memoria in Santiago, built to commemorate those disappeared by the Chilean government during the Pinochet dictatorship.
A permanent text piece by artist Luis Camnitzer at the Museo de la Memoria reads “A museum is a school. The artist learns to communicate. The public learns to make connections.”
Documentation of protests at the Museo de la Memoria. The signs read “No to repression” and “No more torture.”
The Geometry of Conscience, a 2010 installation by Alfredo Jaar in the public space of the Museo de la Memoria. Visitors descend the stairs and enter a sunken space. After a minute of silent darkness, the lights go on to reveal a mirrored crypt lined with illuminated silhouettes of the vanished.
Anti-fascist posters from the series Por La Vida . . . Siempre! (For Life . . . Always!) were to be shown at the Universidad Tecnica del Estado (UTE) in an exhibition scheduled for inauguration on September 11, 1973, by President Allende. But because of the coup, this never happened, and the installation was destroyed by the military. The exhibition Por La Vida . . . Siempre! finally opened at the Museo de la Memoria in July 2011. It featured a reprint of the posters, which were designed by a group from the UTE that included the father of artists Mario and Ivan Navarro. The exhibition was curated by Mario Navarro.
Download the catalogue to the exhibition.
The Museo de la Solidaridad Salvador Allende was conceived in 1971 as a way to give the people of Chile access to international art. International artists donated work in support of Allende’s socialist government. The museum opened in 1972 and closed after the 1973 coup, reopening in 1991 with the return of democracy. It has a collection of more than 2,600 works by artists including Alexander Calder, Yoko Ono, Lygia Clark, Roberto Matta, and Joan Miró.
Frank Stella’s Isfahan III (1968) at MSSA
Victor Vasarely’s 1964 collage Dess (on the left) and Eduardo Terrazas’s painting Serie Deconstruccion de la Imagen No. 4 (1972) at MSSA
Outside the Museo Nacional Bellas Artes is a collaborative installation made by artist Iván Navarro and electronic musician Atom™ for the 11th Media Art Biennale in 2013. The work consists of a giant tire from a mineral transport truck of a kind also used as a barricade during marches and street protests, which here becomes a refuge and listening room.
During my visit, the Museum of Contemporary Art (MAC), located in the Parque Forestal, was hosting an exhibition of Juan Yarur’s collection of international contemporary art. Just 29, Yarur is Chile’s most active and visible young collector. Through his Foundation Ama, he supports and raises the international profiles of young Chilean artists via grants and awards. Pictured here is Catalina Bauer’s Inverted Map of the World (2005/13).
Photographs documenting the everyday life of transvestites and boxers taken in Chile during the dictatorship by Paz Errázurizvery, also part of the Yarur collection exhibition
In the basement of MAC, the exhibition Progreso showcased recent work by Chilean artist Patrick Hamilton, a critic of the effects of neoliberalism in post-dictatorship Chile.
At the Museo of Artes Visuales (MAVI), an exhibition of recent work by artist Mario Navarro was on view. Laboratorio Rojo featured the artist’s aesthetic take on American singer Dean Reed (1938–86), who moved to Chile in the sixties and became an important protest singer. Later relocating to East Germany, Reed became a socialist pop star until his suicide in 1986.
Artist-run space Local Arte Contemporaneo restaged Condoros, a legendary exhibition first presented in 2004 at Galeria Metropolitana in Chile and 24/7 in London. Participating artists were invited to make works inspired by the colors and modern graphics of famous Chilean comic strip Condorito, the hero of which is a cartoon condor.
The proprietors of Local Arte Contemporaneo, artists Javier Gonzalez Pesce and Ignacio Murua
At Centro Cultural Matucana 100, the exhibition Coleccion Vecinal, curated by Gonzalo Pedraza, included a salon-style display of art objects borrowed from neighboring homes.
On the outskirts of Santiago is the studio of artist Sebastian Preece. Preece participated in Prospect.1, the first New Orleans Biennial, in 2008, and in the California-Pacific Triennial in 2013, both of which were curated by Dan Cameron. Here, Preece sieves and classifies materials found on the beach as part of a quasi-archeological practice based on organizing and presenting buried histories.
The studio of Voluspa Jarpa in Barrio Italia, an area that is home to numerous artists’ spaces. In 2011, Jarpa participated in the 8th Biennial do Mercosur in Porto Alegre, Brazil, and in the 12th Istanbul Biennial. Recently, she has been working with declassified U.S. government files on the ’73 coup. First made available in 1999, much of the information in these records has been redacted using black marker, obscuring a traumatic history.
Dealer Isabel Aninat is the first lady of Chilean contemporary art. On display at her gallery in the upscale neighborhood of Alonso de Cordova was the exhibition Sociedad Anonima S.A., which featured the humorous but critical sculptures of Manuela Viera Gallo. In Gallo’s work, pigeons with grenades, bombs, cameras, and satellites for heads survey the wary visitor.
Die Ecke Gallery, also in Barrio Italia, exhibits work by of some of the most interesting contemporary artists. The exhibition Arquitectura y Amistad presented recent projects by Felipe Mujica and Johanna Unzueta. Mujica’s abstract cloth curtains and Unzueta’s felt replicas of industrial objects reflect on the utopias of abstraction and the industrial era, and on possible opportunities for human collaboration.
Finally, Estacion Mapocho, the old train station where the Chaco art fair is held every September. Founded in 2009 by Irene Abujatum and Elodie Fulton, the fair promotes and supports local contemporary art. Chile is one of the most prosperous nations in Latin America, but its relatively wealthy citizens seem to have limited interest in supporting homegrown arts and culture. Initiatives like Chaco—and many of the ones presented above—have, slowly, been working to change this situation.
All photos, except where noted: Pablo León de la Barra