Argentina may be unique among the world’s nations in celebrating two independence days. The first is 25 de Mayo (May 25th), which coincides with the 1810 Revolution that declared the Spanish viceroy in Buenos Aires illegitimate (because the government that appointed him no longer existed), and marked a starting point for the South American wars of independence. The second is 9 de Julio (July 9th), which corresponds to the date at which the United Provinces of the River Plate (forerunner of contemporary Argentina) declared formal independence at the city of San Miguel de Tucumán in 1816.
Argentina has chosen to celebrate the former date, barely a month away, for its bicentennial. To that end, it’s undertaken an ambitious program of modernization and upgrades for many of the country’s top cultural attractions: the Teatro Colón (pictured here, before the scaffolding went up) and San Telmo’s Museo de Arte Moderno, among others, and privately run institutions such as Palermo’s Museo Evita. It’s also meant, at the same time, that these sights have been either closed or open only by limited access for much of the last year (or, in the case of the Colón, for several years). Surrounded by scaffolding, they’re barely visible, though the Colón, at least, has a temporary Centro Vivencial (visitor center) to suggest what the rejuvenated opera house will be like when it reopens.
That grand reopening is due take place May 25th, with the traditional presidential command performance with, presumably, the popular guided tours due to resume shortly thereafter. The Museo de Arte Moderno, though, is well behind schedule and will not reopen until late this year, probably for the start of the spring tourist season in October or so. Despite the scaffolding, the Museo Evita remains open, along with its highly regarded restaurant.
For those of you who can’t visit Argentina this year, Argentina may be coming to you - at least to those of you who live in or around Washington D.C. In honor of the bicentennial, the Smithsonian Institution is hosting a series entitled “Argentina at the Smithsonian 2010,” with a diversity of events that will include tango (both live and on film), popular music, lectures on topics such as wine and the military dictatorship of 1976-83, and poetry. Art events will include a meet-the-artist interview with Guillermo Kuitca and a “Contemporary Argentine Masterworks” exhibition that will include figures such as León Ferrari. Whether the masterworks will include the controversial Ferrari’s “Christian and Western Civilization” (pictured here), a protest against the bombing of Vietnam in the 1960s, is uncertain (I have visited Ferrari in his Buenos Aires apartment, and it’s hard to reconcile this soft-spoken 90-year-old man with such outspoken protest).
For those unable to visit either Argentina or the Smithsonian in 2010, meanwhile, there’s an alternative: there are six more years to plan for the country’s second bicentennial on July 9, 2016. By then, perhaps, all the renovations will be complete.