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12/29/2017 to 02/15/2018

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A Mystic’s Improbable Dream

 It was Pablo Atchugarry’s desire to buy a specific plot of land at a designated site in order to bring to Uruguay all of the experience –the successes, bitterness, wounds and awards– that he had gained over long decades in Europe. It was not him, however, but his two brothers, psychiatrist Marcos Atchugarry and lawyer Alejandro Atchugarry, who really got to make it happen. And in a family built on love, sacrifice and obstinacy, it’s the wise one who calls the shots. The others might find it annoying, but in the end they admit that he’s right.

And that’s why, in that far-off year of 2004, the final say was had by Alejandro Atchugarry, a dot on the broad green horizon at Manantiales whose essential nature hadn’t changed one bit after saving the country, via the Ministry of Economy and Finance, from the greatest crisis in its history. It wasn’t just about listening to the older brother. They also had to trust the contractor, the lawyer, the versatile, austere and brilliant libertarian who seemed to have the right answer to any problem.

But Alejandro was in good company. Marcos, a man whose eyes can’t hide the fact that goodness is hallmark of the Atchugarry-Bonomi family, had the task of “intervening” in the sculptor’s original decision: the brothers would buy the seaside farmland that Pablo wanted, but only as much land as they deemed appropriate.

Marcos remembers: “That search occurred at a very special time, because our mother had died only shortly before. And Pablo, looking for something to keep us busy, asked us to find some land. He was really worried because up to that point he had been renting rather modest houses, and he was obsessed with not bothering his neighbors with noise or dust. And at the time he was making sculptures that were a lot smaller than those he’s making now. So, at this difficult time, he contrived to give us a useful task that would strengthen our old fraternal bond, the dear friendship we’ve always had. And he succeeded”.

His younger brother adds: “With Alejandro, we went through the entire Maldonado Department and the surrounding area, from Portezuelo to José Ignacio. We went to parks, fields and rocky areas, we would suggest places and Pablo would reply, “What do I want with more rocks?’, and we kept searching while he kept rejecting everything. And I’m not saying that we were going to give up, but we were pretty tired of suggesting plots that he didn’t like. Until this land appeared that he did want, and Alejandro turned fierce, screaming at him that he shouldn’t throw money away and only allowing him to buy less than he wanted. But what people don’t know is how that original land changed. This doesn’t surprise me, however, since Pablo always got along very well with trees, plants and animals, so what to us seemed no more than parcels of field land, for him ended up being the Pablo Atchugarry Foundation”.

However, the cultural center’s evolution was slow, in keeping with the painstaking work that Pablo, a sculptor and –ultimately– a Basque man, believed in. As the song by Daniel Viglietti –whose words continue to resonate intimately with them– goes: “Just one little drop, and then another, becomes a downpour” (“Una gota, con ser poco, con otra se hace aguacero”). And that’s how it was.

First, with two seaside plots of farmland, each with an area of 5 hectares, to which fifteen more hectares were eventually added to complete Atchugarry’s personal studio, which opened in early 2006. And then, of course, the main building, inaugurated in 2007, which was joined over the following years, in chronological order, by the hall with a pavilion for permanent works and by the auditorium, the educational room and the amphitheater which, in 2011, rounded off the full meaning of a Sculpture Park whose first work was by Miguel Ángel Battegazzore. This work was the preamble to two other pieces commissioned by Pablo following an unforgettable meeting in La Floresta, from Octavio Podestá and from Enrique Broglia, an artist whose magnificence he had originally discovered in person in Paris, in a distant time and place: 1977.

And every time an exhibition was being set up in the cultural center’s early days, it was precisely Battegazzore who always appeared, accompanied by Leo Noguez. That’s how it’s remembered by Verónica Vázquez, the incredibly refined artist whose recent exhibition “La naturaleza de las cosas” [The Nature of Things] lit up the National Museum of Visual Arts in Montevideo, and who also helped lay the building blocks for the Foundation many years before that.

“I was in the hall in front, which was the only one there was, and Pablo would drop by a couple of times a day in his car, lowering the window and asking if anyone had come. Sometimes I answered that one person had come, sometimes two, and the visitors asked me basic questions like who Pablo was and if he had any relation to Alejandro”, she remembers, adding: “Pablo had exhibited at Galería Tejería not long before that but he wasn’t overly well-known and people were very curious to know what this marble thing was all about, to know about the sculpting process and, in short, about this character, a sculptor who had come from another place, who made a living that way and who was Uruguayan, which was something truly rare”.

Also truly rare was the day that Marcos and Alejandro Atchugarry, with an enormous weight lifted from their shoulders, arrived at El Chorro Beach in La Rambla de Manantiales, having completed their assigned task. What they saw there ended up giving meaning to the whole quest. Just meters from the sand, with all the ease that only nature’s miracles are capable of, two enormous southern right whales were frolicking.  One more mystery of the sort that Pablo, the man Pedro Atchugarry dreamed of, believes require no explanation, perhaps because, as Pessoa wrote, “The light of the sun doesn’t know what it’s doing. So it’s never wrong and it’s common and good”.

Pablo Cohen

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Items of interest




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MACA - Museo de Arte Contemporáneo Atchugarry

Behind the scenes of the works of the Museum of American Art, a "container of dreams"