I read on the internet that there was an exhibit of Kitsch (not be confused with kitch, which is) and decided to check it out. Kitsch is a word I never felt comfortable using for two reasons: 1) It always struck me as overly pretentious perhaps because 2) I never quite knew what it meant. Luckily Wikipedia was invented and now it’s definition is accessible to all:
Kitsch is a term of German origin that has been used to categorize art that is considered an inferior copy of an existing style. The term is also used more loosely in referring to any art that is pretentious to the point of being in bad taste, and also commercially produced items that are considered trite or crass.
The most interesting thing about the definition is how it’s reflexive: placing the viewer in comparison to the viewed. Calling something kitsch is essentially a judgement: “You think you are all that but you are wrong and you are making a fool of yourself because you are just like everybody else.”
As “bad taste” is generally in the eye of the beholder, the exhibition spoke much more about the curators and much less about the folks with bad taste. Fads were easy pickings and I recognized a lot of Yanqui style stuff but a lot of the things they picked on just seemed random. This next example is not so much kitsch as it might be Edward Gorey’s children:
Coming from Kitschlandia (thank you, jen) my biggest surprise was that many of these things labeled in the museum I saw as simply dumb cultural iconography that were a little over the top: wooden birds. The museum tried to explain their choice with notes explaining why the various items were in bad taste but I was not convinced of the museum’s own kitschproof credentials. As I walked through I was forced to wonder if the choice to back the paper with fleorescent pink and green was intentional or mistaken.
They seemed to be particularly ruthless on images of children dressed in finery.
They did have some good finds among which were a jesus painting that changed as you moved throughout the room and an old photo of a girl who had just got her hair cut with the hair attached to the photo. But anyone who is actually interested in seeing some real kitsch doesn’t need to shell out the 3 pesos for the museum when any feria americana, San Telmo market, or most porteno’s house will furnish a much more complete collection. For example, I took this photo one block from the museum. It is as fine a specimin as any you will find in the exhibit. I assume the gentleman is a brazilian golliwog?
Was this just an example of a museum being [gasp]
elitist? Or was this an example of a few dedicated individuals trying to educate the public? In a land where the mullet is high fashion I didn’t know and I didn’t care. For me, the far more interesting exhibit was the games collection next door. The museum had a collection of some games and toys historically played by Portenos.
But what we found when we entered was two men arguing loudly about the state of affairs in Argentina 30 years ago. To be fair, it was actually it was one man, the curator, haranguing a man who was trying to leave. I think that shouting about politics in a museum is something that could only be acceptible in Buenos Aires. The man left and the curator looked pleased with himself. He came up to us and told us to take as many pictures as we wanted. This had the curious effect of making me not want to take any more pictures. I asked the curator what exactly they were discussing and he said “No no… we weren’t discussing!!! We were… talking. Nothing but talking…” This was the last thing I understood for the next few minutes because he started explaining to me how Argentina had been on the verge of nuclear weapons in the 1940s but had stopped its programs because it was too peaceloving, how a neighbor of his who lives in Cordoba found a nugget of gold the size of a football while digging for potatoes and about many of the finer points of macroeconomics.
As we escaped from the museum he implored us to take more photos and spread the word about wonderful, peaceloving Argentina.