You’re hanging around in the hallway of El Museo Casa Carlos Gardel in Abasto, waiting for your parents to catch up so you can leave. You’re thinking about where you might go for a coffee, and you’re wondering whether your folks will be remotely interested in the slightly naff statue of Gardel himself, on offer a few blocks away. As you stand there hoping to come up with something better to show them than the ‘historic on the outside at least’ Abasto Shopping Mall, a strange man in a smartish suit leaves a small group congregating in the front salon, approaches you, and says in Castellano,
“Excuse me. I don’t know if you would be interested but we’re about to leave on an art tour. We have a minibus and the tour will take about two hours. It’s free. Would you like to come?”
What do you do?
A. Say no immediately: he’s obviously a crook who wants to get you into an Abasto back street and steal your credit cards;
B. Say yes right away: you were praying for an answer as to how to kill an afternoon, and he showed up on cue;
C. Ask him one question to check his credentials and decide you can deal with the inevitable sales pitches.
I’d love to say I was an instant B. but however much I like to think I go with the flow, I’m British and therefore slightly suspicious of any strange foreign men in suits who mention the words tour, art and free in the same breath. I picked my one question, and asked him who he was. Well, Argentines are usually to the point aren’t they? They just say it like it is. And so do I in situations like that: you ain’t messin’ with me boy, type thing (probably the hours of ‘chica fria’ practice I’ve put in turning down dubious looking guys who approach my milonga table helps). Anyway, by the time he’d told me we’d be joining a Government Minister of Culture, the manager of one of the most prestigious hotels in Buenos Aires, and the owner of a new tango show, I was hooked. Of course the sales pitches would come, but hell, I could handle them, right?
Before that day I’d never heard of Fernando Martínez, who incredibly uses the fine leads of nothing larger than pencils to create detailed works of over a metre in diameter, in part inspired by the world of tango. By five o’clock that afternoon I’d been introduced to him by the man in the suit, and he’d shown me his latest drawing in progress on the easel, his neat row of sharpened pencils laid out on the tiny stand to the left, and the tango shoes that inform his intricate and sensual collages. As he spoke to me, he chuckled and smiled: a master of his art, and a delightful man. He gave me a round postcard style example of one of his works. I couldn’t stop staring at the finished erotic giants leaning against every wall: they were wrapped and waiting to leave for the next exhibition, but I was getting a privileged glimpse of them all. I might not have heard of him before, but bloody hell, it became rather obvious to me that most Argentine art lovers probably have.
There were no sales pitches. None. Not one. Just four artists in their homes and studios, all different, all brilliant, all generous with their time. At the end there were drinks and snacks and questions about what we’d thought of the tour. Did we think it of value to meet living artists, see their work spaces, talk to them about their art? I tried to give my best possible little speech in Castellano and I hope I managed to convey, how honoured we were to have had the chance: “Me emocione,” I ended. They seemed delighted that we thought it was worthwhile. Worthwhile? I was standing there with my parents who are themselves both artists, in the full knowledge that if I had spent hundreds of dollars and planned months in advance, I probably couldn’t have pulled off an afternoon quite as perfectly matched to their wildest dreams.
“Thank you so much for coming!” enthused the girls who were the extremely well-informed art guides from Arte Tres Peces and the man in the suit, as if we were the most important people in the room. They insisted on giving us a lift back to the museum we’d started out from. To be honest we were left on the street corner in a bit of a daze.
“Do things like that really happen?” asked my Mum.
“In Buenos Aires they do,” I said, “But only if you say yes.”
Neither the guides or the man in the suit, all of whom spoke some English, asked me to recommend their tour, but how can I not? If you are in town and want to get on the inside of Argentine art, well I can’t think of a much better place to start.
Alas you guys will have to pay. Unless that is, you decide to pitch your tent in the hallway of the Carlos Gardel House Museum on the highly improbable off chance that a strange man in a suit will approach you and offer you a free magical mystery tour from art heaven. If he does, make sure you’re a straight B. eh?
I am open to the guidance of synchronicity, and do not let expectations hinder my path.