Chile has made a surprising contribution to the arts; from revolutionary political rock to abstract masterpieces in painting; from Nobel Prize-winning poets to Pritzker Prize-winning architects. The cultural offerings of the nation’s capital, Santiago, now rank alongside those of Buenos Aires, Sao Paulo, and Mexico City. Santiago is reinventing itself, with arts, nightlife, and restaurant scenes that have never been better, making this thriving and sophisticated metropolis into the civic, cultural, and historical nucleus of the country.
MUSIC & DANCE
Folk music exploded in Chile between 1950 and 1970 led by such artists as Violeta Parra and Victor Jara, whose music was fuelled by political protest. Another notable band from this period is Los Jaivas, a majestic progressive rock band that fused psychedelia, polyrhythms, and native South American instruments. The 1980s were marked by the confrontational Los Prisioneros, whose clever, catchy, and politically-motivated songs became the soundtrack for an entire generation. Chile has also given the world an extraordinary classical pianist. Claudio Arrau (1903-1991), considered one of the greatest pianists of the twentieth century. Cueca is Chile’s national dance, with its epicenter in the nation’s heartland just south of Santiago. Elsewhere, the music and dance of the Rapa Nui (Easter Island) and Mapuche (Southern Chile) are perhaps the more emblematic of the indigenous musical forms.
LIVE MUSIC & THEATER
Areas such as Bellavista, Barrio Italia, and Plaza Ñuñoa are great places to go to see live music, from folk to jazz to rock. The city is also an important stop for rock bands during their world tours. There are dozens of theaters in the city, particularly in Bellavista, with companies performing works by local playwrights such as Egon Wolff to those by the likes of Pinter, Miller, or Camus. All theatrical performances in Santiago are in Spanish. The Teatro Municipal is the county’s most important venue for live classical music, opera, and dance.
Chileans call their country país de poetas (a land of poets), in honor of two major figures. Gabriela Mistral who was the first Latin American to receive a Nobel Prize in Literature (1945), while Chile's most famous poet, Pablo Neruda, who received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971 and is world-renowned for his extensive library of works on romance, nature, and politics. Such is his worldwide fame, his three highly personalized homes in Isla Negra, Santiago and Valparaíso are popular tourist destinations. Novelist José Donoso's novel The Obscene Bird of Night is considered by critic Harold Bloom to be one of the canonical works of 20th-century Western literature.
Until recently, Chile’s best-known architect was the whimsical (and occasionally bizarre) Luciano Kulciewzski, whose works grace the Lastarria neighborhood of Santiago. However, Chilean architecture was catapulted to the forefront of global attention in 2016 when Alejandro Aravena was named the 41st Pritzker Prize Laureate; the first Chilean to receive the award. Of course, Aravena is not the only architect from his country to receive international acclaim in recent years. In 2013, the famed Aedes Gallery in Berlin curated an exhibition of selected works by Mathias Klotz, one of Chile’s most renowned architects. Cesar Pelli’s magnificent, 900-foot ‘Gran Torre’ is a statement of intent. This challenging work – the tallest in the Americas south of the US – is symbolic of Chile’s constant growth over the past three decades. Santiago is a fascinating city for those interested in architectural forms, with buildings spanning colonial, neoclassical, Art Nouveau, and much more.
Santiago is very much the art capital of the country with dozens of exceptional galleries, including the wonderful MNBA Fine Arts Museum. Established in 1849 in the Universidad de Chile, the Chilean Academy of Painting has helped foster fine painting and inspire young artists, including most notably Roberto Matta. Chile’s most celebrated artist, Matta was a seminal figure in 20th century abstract expressionist and surrealist art. Other important figures include Carlos Sotomayor (1911-1988), considered one of the main exponents of cubism from South America, and Camilo Mori (1896-1973), and hyperrealist Claudio Bravo (1936-2011). With its rich history of influences, from indigenous and colonial Spanish to the present day, Chile’s art scene is a mesh of forms that creates a distinct style that is prevalent in the vibrant contemporary art scene of Vitacura.