The Man from La Boca

He Was the Painter of the Port of Buenos Aires

He Was the Painter of the Port of Buenos Aires

Benito Quinquela Martín (1890-1977) is a painter not widely known in the art world of New York, London, or Paris. In Argentina, his work is a different story altogether. Martín was known primarily for painting port scenes around La Boca, which, for most of his life, was the port of Buenos Aires. Today, La Boca is primarily known for cheap souvenir shops and dancers who assume tango positions for pesos for the tourists. Near the tour buses at Caminito, however, sits the Escuela Pedro de Mendoza, which happens to contain the Museo de Bellas Artes Benito Quinquela Martín dedicated to his work.

Boca is not the nicest part of the port city, and it is no longer the port, which has been moved east. The polluted Riachuelo, also known as the Matanza, flows past the museum and the brightly colored buildings decorated with leftover marine paints and inspired by Quinquela Martín’s port views.

Unloading Cargo at La Boca

Unloading Cargo at La Boca

Aside from the tourist ghetto around Caminito and the nearby Boca Juniors football stadium known as the Bombonera, or candy box, Boca is a rough neighborhood from which tourists do not stray far. A century ago, however, it was the port of entry for thousands of Italian, Spanish, and other European immigrants who came to South America looking for a better life. And many of them found it. During the First World War, most soldiers on both sides were fed with canned beef from Argentina and Uruguay; and silent movies like The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921) starring Rudolph Valentino showed the lives of Argentinian millionaires.

Another Port Scene from Martín

Another Port Scene from Martín

Today, Benito Quinquela Martín is considered to be one of the greatest Argentinian painters of the Twentieth Century; and his work in found in museums throughout Buenos Aires.

 

Italy West

Tourists Wandering the Caminito

Tourists Wandering the Caminito

I was thinking today of Buenos Aires, especially that colorful—but fetching—tourist trap known as La Boca with its short Caminito, a diagonal street about a block long. La Boca (“The Mouth”) was literally the mouth of the now polluted Ria Chuelo. It was also the center of life for the thousands of Italian immigrants who found their way to Argentina between the 1870s and the early 1900s. At one point, the residents declared their independence of their new homeland and raised the flag of Genoa. But President Julio Argentino Roca personally ripped it down.

The bright colors originally were marine paints left over from the shipping that docked here. The neighborhood has an edgy blue collar vibe that finds its center in the soccer football stadium known as La Bombonera (“The Chocolate Box”), home of the Boca Juniors, one of Buenos Aires’s premier football teams.

In 2011, Martine and I took a hop-on, hop-off bus tour of BA that included La Boca, where we stopped for a couple of hours to take pictures and take in all the tacky souvenirs.

Art on the Caminito

Art on the Caminito

Because it is so far distant from the United States, not many Americans find their way 6,000 miles south to Argentina. In our case, we went even farther south, all the way to Tierra Del Fuego and the southernmost city in the world, Ushuaia.

I would dearly love to go back there some time and see some of the places we missed. And I’d even like to hang around La Boca some more.