Born Oscar Agustín Alejandro Schulz Solari, Argentine artist and musician Xul Solar grew up just north of the city of Buenos Aires, and would spend his life exploring the world with a mystical bent. There is an otherworldliness to his art - most often watercolors or tempera on small sheets of paper - which was influenced by his interest in astrology, symbolism, and mysticism. He was a seeker; looking back in time to ancient knowledges, and looking forward as he strove to create something new. In his lifetime he created two new languages, a new form of chess, and modified pianos.
In 1928, after several years in Europe, Solar settled permanently in a house on Laprida street in Buenos Aires, which today houses the museum dedicated to his work.
The museum is very small; a visitor might spend about an hour inside. But Solar’s body of work and place in the avant garde art and literature movement of Argentina (he associated with the “Florida Group” and had a close friendship with Jorge Luis Borges) makes this gem in the Recoleta neighbourhood worth a visit.
The collection includes works from the span of his career (also available on the museum’s website). In Entierro [Burial] (1915), Solar draws on his spiritual beliefs, which often fell outside of traditional Western religious thought, to create a scene of death and reincarnation. Mourners, accompanied by an angelic figure with decidedly non-angelic bat wings, process with a body to a tomb in the distance. The style of the figures appears to have been influenced by pre-Columbian painting, and the form of the soul above the body has a fetal shape, suggesting reincarnation.
Solar was a committed astrologer, a practice that led to the creation of astrological charts and influenced his art, as seen in one of his Pan Arbol (World Tree) paintings.
The museum also has examples of his modified chess set (pan-chess, which frankly looks mind boggling) and piano (scarcely less intimidating, with its three rows of keys).
Solar’s art often employed bright, contrasting colors, and the Tarot deck he designed was no exception.
The museum also has a couple of Solar’s Pan Altar pieces, done in the traditional Christian-style triptych while including non-traditional symbolism.
The museum is slightly off the beaten path for a tourist, but still within about 10 blocks of the tourist hotspots of El Ateneo Grand Splendid (a bookstore that always makes the “world’s most beautiful bookstores” lists) and the Recoleta Cemetery. It’s easily accessible from the D line (Agüero station) and the H line (Santa Fe station) of the subway. There is a pretty solid little gift shop, if museum swag is your thing.
The museum is open from 12pm to 8pm Tuesday through Friday and 12pm to 7pm on Saturday. The general admission fee is a very affordable 60 pesos (about US $1.50), although inflation in Argentina is a wild ride, so double check the website for the most current prices.
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Amy Thorne lives in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where she speaks terrible Spanish. She spends a considerable amount of time visiting the museums of the city--big, small, and oddly specific--and writes about them at www.exhibitist.net.