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Friday, 11 January, 2002, 19:01 GMT
Argentina celebrates art amid chaos
The message reads: 'Politicians, smile - we are watching you'
Street art: Costantini's is not the only exhibition
The first exhibition has opened at Argentina's new, $25m (17.3m) museum showcasing Latin American art - despite fresh rioting sparked by the country's economic crisis.

The temporary exhibition at the Malba, as the Buenos Aires museum is known, is entitled The Politics of Difference, and celebrates the diversity of all the countries of the Americas.

Building work on the glass and steel structure, which uses so-called intelligent technology to control temperature and humidity, was completed in September.

The money for the new museum was supplied by Eduardo Costantini, a 55-year-old business tycoon - no aid was given by the government.

A sign urges consumers to back Argentina with their wallets
"Argentina now or never: Buy domestic goods and services"

Mr Costantini said his aim is to put Latin American art back on the world stage after the "dark decades" of the 1960s, 70s and 80s, when it was lost internationally.

During those years, military dictatorships, followed by hyperinflation and economic quick fixes, left the continent's art on the periphery of world trends.

Even at home, artists were often driven underground by harsh, authoritarian regimes.

Mr Costantini said: "For years, Latin America considered the 'foreign model' - even in art - to be superior to our indigenous version. This shows that's not true."

The museum's curator, Agustin Arteaga, is a former director of Mexico City's Museum of Fine Arts.

He stresses the Malba's social role.

"The great thing to see here is that we are attracting youngsters you wouldn't normally see in a museum in Buenos Aires," he said.

People queue outside a Buenos Aires bank
Economic crisis is causing chaos for banks

"It's better for them to learn to be an art handler here than ending up as a taxi driver."

The museum houses works by 110 artists from 26 countries - from the Dutch Antilles to Venezuela.

In the temporary exhibition, sculptures, installations and paintings address themes of diversity in race, culture, creed, sexuality and politics.

On the second floor, sandwiched between two floors of the temporary show, is Costantini's permanent collection, which has grown from what he describes as "one or two works that weren't of museum quality" in the 1980s to 220 today.

The works include Manifestacion, a classic portrait of disgruntled workers painted in 1934 by Argentina's Antonio Berni; Las Viudas, by Colombia's Fernando Botero; and Frida Kahlo's 1942 self-portrait, Auto Retrato con Chango y Loro.

The Kahlo, acquired in 1996, cost Costantini $3.2m (2.2m), a record price for any piece of Latin American art.

See also:

11 Jan 02 | Americas
Fresh protests rock Argentina
09 Jan 02 | Business
Argentina currency fears mount
08 Jan 02 | Business
IMF sees more pain for Argentina
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