Monumental Art Deco in the Argentinian Pampas: the work of Francisco Salamone
The dark utopia.
Between 1998 and 2001 I travelled around the province of Buenos Aires ,Argentina, with the purpose of making a photographic survey on Architect Francisco Salamone's buildings. His work, developed between 1936 and 1940, in aproximately 25 towns and cities of the province, was compliant with the plan of Manuel Fresco’s government, which aimed at building slaughter houses, cemeteries, and town halls in several areas of his jurisdiction.
Salomone's work is a monumental and wonderfully creative expression of a style in which Art Deco and Rationalism merge.
During the second half of the 1930's, an important public works project, organized by the conservative governor Manuel Fresco, was developed in the province of Buenos Aires, Argentina. The prevailing optimism of those years in which Argentina was considered the "world's breadbasket" was tinged with a nationalism in which the paternalist role of the state became clear in the creation and dissemination of new codes of social order. Between 1936 and 1940, Fresco sponsored the construction of roads, canals and, most importantly, new public buildings. He entrusted architect Francisco Salamone with the design and supervision of about fifty buildings, plazas and other minor projects that were developed in twenty-five districts in the province of Buenos Aires. Within this ambitious modernizing endeavour, Salamone’s buildings have emerged as key cultural symbols in Argentina, due to their ideological, aesthetic and, from a current perspective, historical value.
Salamone had the opportunity to work in small towns located some 500 to 700 kms from the city of Buenos Aires. These towns were either older and isolated settlements near the forts built during the fight against indigenous inhabitants in the 19th century, or the result of the advance of railways, which allowed agricultural products to arrive in the city to be consumed or exported.
In four years Salamone planned and managed the construction of more than fifty buildings, mainly three emblematic types: slaughterhouses, cemeteries and town halls. Their colossal scale and decorative iconography responded to Fresco's specific requests, to the practical needs of the time and, to a certain extent, to the ideological expressions proposed by the government.
Perhaps because of the politics that reigned in Argentina in the second half of the 1930's, Salamone's complex work has remained relatively forgotten for more than sixty years, even within the scholarly community. Nevertheless, it merits closer investigation for its monumental aspects, its isolation from the context of a flat landscape, and its historical value.
In the last 17 years my photographic work has focused on architecture, the urban landscape and the way both influence our lives. It was my commitment to this subject that moved me explore the photographic potential present in Salamone’s buildings, almost as soon as I knew his work in 1997 when I began studying its historic context.
The fact that Francisco Salamone's work has remained forgotten for so long reflects the Argentinean's idiosyncratic preference for short-term projects, and the oblivion and thus repetition of events throughout our history. My project not only seeks to revalue this architectural heritage from an aesthetic point of view, but also to stimulate audiences to consider important matters that go beyond art and architecture into the realms of history.
In my opinion, the fact that Francisco Salamone's architectural work was an intensive, extensive and uncompleted project that remains almost forgotten; provides us with a useful metaphor for understanding Argentinean history along which projects of similar magnitude have been started but then quickly abandoned and neglected. Behind this ambitious urban program, the failure of the rich agricultural and farming Argentina utopia became apparent once again. And this failure broadens the gap between that fiction we still believe in, and the reality that Argentineans are not yet determined to accept.