Julie's Journeys: Santiago, Chile

I have had the good fortune to be employed by the Dixon Gallery and Gardens for over seven years now.  Throughout those seven years, I have seen incredible works of art come in and out our doors, made lifelong friends, and savored every moment of working on the most beautiful seventeen acres in Memphis.  More than anything, however, I am given the opportunity to contribute to the original scholarship on certain artists and art historical periods in the name of the Dixon through research, exhibition planning, and catalogue writing.  What an honor!  

And while my daily drive into 4339 Park Avenue never gets old, occasionally I have the chance to represent the Dixon and our mission in cities around the United States and around the world.  Since I started at the Dixon as a Curatorial Assistant in 2007, I have traveled to Europe, Asia, and most recently, to South America.  In early December, I traveled to beautiful and balmy Santiago, Chile, to conduct research for an exhibition I am planning for the Dixon for 2017.  I brought our fearless leader, Dixon Director Kevin Sharp, and our fearless translator, Dixon Director of Education Margarita Sandino, along with me for this whirlwind (we were only there two and a half days!) adventure.    


As soon as we drove out of the airport, we realized two things: 1. It is definitely summer time in Santiago.  The temperature most days was in the upper 80s with hardly any humidity.  2.  Chile is a beautiful country!  Santiago is a large city that is nestled in a valley of the Andes Mountains.  You can see the mountains from almost everywhere in the city, and even in the heat of summer, those mountains are majestically capped with snow.      

On the advice of some of the people we were meeting with, we stayed in the bustling Lastarria neighborhood of Santiago, near the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, at the intimate Lastarria Boutique Hotel (which was absolutely wonderful!).  From our hotel, we were able to easily explore some of the more exciting restaurants and shops that Santiago has to offer.  We were quickly amazed by the variety of architectural styles within the city—from Spanish colonial to hyper-modern, you name it, Santiago’s got it all.      

We ventured into different areas of the city, including the upscale Las Condes neighborhood, full of interesting public works of art, and the historic Plaza de Armas, where we caught the tail end of a Mass celebrating the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (a national holiday in Chile) at the spectacular Santiago Cathedral.   

We found Chilean food to be absolutely delicious (Bocanáriz, pictured above, was a favorite), and although in my fourth month of pregnancy I wasn’t able to really savor the famed wines of Chile, Margarita and Kevin both assured me that I was missing out!     

The main mission of this trip was to meet with members of the Subercaseaux and Errázuriz families.  Those last names may sound familiar to some of our loyal “Dixonians” as the names of the subjects of paintings by John Singer Sargent (Ramón Subercaseaux in a Gondola, 1880) and Jacques-Émile Blanche (Portrait of Eugenia Huici Arguedas de Errázuriz, 1890) in the Dixon collection (pictured below).  We were there to gain more insight into the lives of these fascinating, yet largely unknown figures in the history of late nineteenth and early twentieth century Western art.  Thankfully for us, the descendants of both Ramón Subercaseaux and Eugenia Errázuriz still maintain photographs and other personal items related to them, but perhaps more importantly, they have retained personal stories about these extraordinary individuals, and were more than happy to welcome us into their homes and share those stories with us.   

John Singer Sargent (American, 1856 – 1925), Ramón Subercaseaux in a Gondola, 1880; Oil on canvas; Dixon Gallery and Gardens, Gift of Cornelia Ritchie, 1996.2.13

Jacques-Émile Blanche (French, 1861 – 1942), Portrait of Eugenia Huici Arguedas de Errázuriz, 1890; Pastel on canvas; Dixon Gallery and Gardens, Museum purchase in memory of John E. Buchanan, Jr., 2012.1

In between meetings, we were able to check out Santiago’s Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Chile’s national museum.  The museum is housed in a beautiful beaux-arts structure that allowed for a lot of light to stream into the building’s atrium.  We enjoyed seeing the museum’s permanent collection, which consists mostly of works by Chilean painters.      

At the MNBA, there was also an exhibition of work by French artist Christian Boltanski entitled Almas.  The show piece of the exhibition was the work pictured above, a massive mountain of old clothes which was equal parts stunning, disgusting, funny, and poignant.  Crowds of people were at the museum to see this exhibition, and it was great to see people’s reactions to this unusual work of art.     

Without a doubt, it was a great first trip to Santiago, and it certainly won’t be my last.  The warmth and hospitality of the people we met with makes me sad our trip wasn’t longer than it was, and makes me eager to get back to this fascinating city full of interesting people.    

Posted by Chantal Drake at 9:18 AM
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