Street Life, III: Santiago’s Benches

Of all the distinctive ways that street life is enlivened in Santiago, the most artistically enticing concerns the city’s myriad cast-iron-supported wooden benches. For the past decade, art dealers have been commissioning local artists — a dash of the internationally known, a smattering of the well-established, and many neither– to choose a bench and do their thing. The program spread from a single commissioning gallery on a single street to many benches spread through three neighborhoods. You may now set down your derrière and lounge on works of art in the city center, Las Condes, and Vitacura.

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Some artists have adopted the shout-it-out, Peter Max approach, indulging themselves in the wavy shapes, lilting lines, and acid-inspired colors that also recalled Hans Eidelmann’s 1968 Yellow Submarine album cover for the Beatles. My favorite was the quintipartite-structured composition enlivened with flat, child-like images of faces and hands, and inscribed with awkward script that exhorted: nada mas noble que VIVE HOY (nothing more noble than to live today). Words which, if lived by, forfend the kind of melancholy perseveration that destroys too many people’s days.

Animals and insects appeared repeatedly, sometimes diaristically (as in “Oh my gawd, don’t you think my wonderful dog is SO cute!!”), but more often than not, artistically. Whatever that Alice-in-Wonderland insect is on the left, I like it. The bench on the right elicited thoughts of a well-painted detail from a historic Japanese landscape.

In several instances, folk art provided inspiration.

My favorites, I suspect predictably, were mainly abstract, though the bottom right bench does hearken back to the ever-popular dog motif.

And the absolute, all-time winner, with its allusions to earth, horizon, sky, and water, its hasty, indecipherable script, and its slightly skewed perspective, almost a quirky modern riff on a scene by Piero della Francesca:Bench 17

In all, these benches rarely failed to delight and give pause, prompting me to muse, yet again, on the potential for cities to offer moments of vitality by aesthetically enriching even the humblest of public places.

I could show many more, but then, that might discourage you from heading off to see and enjoy them for yourself.

— Sarah

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