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The Museum of Modern Art in Buenos Aires (MAMBA) has recently re-staged one of the most famous works in modern Latin American art, La Menesunda, on the fiftieth anniversary of its opening. The show has since generated lots of attention due to the historical importance of the piece.

La Menesunda was first staged in 1965 in Buenos Aires and was a collaboration between Marta Minujin and Rubén Santantonín. Neither an installation nor a performance piece, the work was described as “art within something happening”. The best analogy for this work is that it is an artistic version of a fun house, where visitors walk through human-shaped entrances from room to room interacting with what was installed inside. There are different surprises around ever corner: an entire room covered in confetti, a bed with a sleeping couple, and free massage services provided by performers. In total, there are 16 “situations” that visitors get to encounter and partake in.

La Menesunda was one of Minujin’s first forays into creating happenings and performance pieces, inspired by what she saw after traveling to Paris on a grant. However, although barely credited for his role in the history books, La Menesunda was also created in the same vein as Santantonín’s previous works.

His art was based on conceptual principles and required the viewers to become active participants in the work. Santantonìn wanted his pieces to become a “transformative matter” that could not bought nor sold.

Despite its anti-art slant, La Menesunda was a hit and a financial success. One and a half million visitors lined up out the door to go see the work, and the local media in Buenos Aires covered the work extensively. Thanks to this phenomenon, Minujin and Santantonìn were able to introduce and popularize the principles of conceptual art and pop art to the South American art scene, making the La Menesunda a major turning point in Latin American art.

Now, La Menesunda is still just as popular. The MAMBA now limits the amount of visitors that are allowed to visit the exhibit per day. Yet, this re-staging lacks the same dynamism as before. It is not transforming or changing the local art scene. The only purpose it seems to serve is as an educational tool for those who were not fortunate enough to see the original.

Re-staging such a show, even with the approval of Minujin, might undermine the original intent of the work. The bright neon lights, confetti, and outrageous performers in La Menesunda now make people pull out their camera phones and document it. In this digital age, the show has become Instagram-bait, the perfect form of free publicity for a state-run museum with a limited budget. In the same vein as “Rain Room” at MoMA and “Matisse Cut-Outs” at the Tate, “La Menesunda” is an example of a blockbuster show whose main purpose serves to generate revenue. Not surprisingly, MoMA will exhibit La Menesunda sometime in 2017.

Veronica Hernandez, February 2016, Buenos Aires.
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