The museum of fine arts – Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes – is housed in a magnificent palace dating back to 1910, reminiscent of the Petit Palais in Paris: ornate wrought-iron gates open onto a central hall, caryatid columns hold the filigree-boned ironwork central glass cuppola (imported from Belgium in 1907). Shiny black granite tiles show off the sawdust scattered around in tidy piles …. Sawdust piles?  Per chance the legendary German artist Joseph Beuys has made unknown installations in Santiago?  No, a much more prosaic use – whenever it rains, the roof leaks and the staff put out sawdust to absorb the raindrops… better than pots and pails, I suppose.

And that is just about the state in which this museum in this lovely building is in.  My first impression:  this is supposed to be the paramount state collection of paintings and sculptures?

Let’s give the management the benefit of the doubt and suppose that the treasures are hidden away in some depot.  In talking with residents of Santiago who are in the know, however, my suspicions are confirmed:  there are no treasures hidden away, this is pretty much it. The running of the museum is politically appointed, it does not necessarily go to the candidate who is best qualified to do so. Pity.


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