#ObscureMuseum is a new column for Hyperallergic by Eamon Erred (aka Museum Nerd) exploring the off-the-beaten-path and little-known museums of the world.
* * *
When I went to visit some friends in Viña del Mar, Chile, my first thoughts weren’t about the famous beaches and coastline, but of the museums, if any, they might have in this sizeable resort town (population 286,931) that’s south of the famous port city of Valparaíso. I was thrilled to find that the town had several museums. Since this is a column on obscure (and by that I mean little-known and not necessarily dimly-lit or incomprehensible) museums, I’ll fill you in a bit on one that absolutely blew my mind.
The Fonck Museum (officially the Museo de Arqueología e Historia Francisco Fonck) is the legacy of Prussian anthropologist Dr. Francisco Fonck (1830-1912). Outside the museum, visitors are welcomed by a giant, volcanic-rock, head-and-shoulders bust (aka moai). I have to admit that before I picked up the Lonely Planet guide to Chile while planning for the trip, I’d never associated these monolithic noggins with Chile, which might be forgivable since they were made over 500 years ago by the Polynesian residents of Easter Island (aka Rapa Nui), which is 2,180 miles off the Chilean coast. This friendly fellow’s gray grimace is just the beginning of a wonderful cabinet of curiosities that kept me slightly frightened, but excited to fully discover a new and wonderful museological delight.
While I was there, a “temporary” exhibit — which appears to still be there — on shrunken heads was actually the most informative exposure I’d ever had to the world of cabezitas jibarizadas. Just so you know, if you happen to have an enemy’s severed human head on hand, you’ll want to boil it first, then dry it out in sand if you’d prefer it to be much tinier. Don’t forget to remove the skull first or you’ll wind up with a total mess on your hands.
The Fonck has an excellent exhibit on the history of Chile that is infused with plenty of art by the indigenous people of South America. My favorite vitrine was filled with erotic Andean art (of the Moche and Chimu cultures) which featured some cryptic English translations of the much more clear Spanish. “Sexual intercourse was supposed phisically [sic] approach both sex through phallic instruments.” Uh huh. Although I highly enjoy the delights of amateur translation, the art and objects at the Fonck were absolutely exquisite and quickly recaptured my attention.
Also, not to be missed at the Fonck Museum is a natural history section featuring a stuffed animal collection reminiscent of Ripley’s Believe it or Not. One little two-headed lamb was so adorable I had to snap a photo. The moth and butterfly collection would have wowed even famed lepidopterist Vladimir Nabokov (I think he also wrote books). There’s so much packed into this tiny museum and I promise it’s not all grotesque. It’s well worth a few hours to get a Fonck-adelic education on Chilean history, culture, and fauna.
Unfortunately, due to the recent terremoto and aftershocks, the museum is currently closed according to a message from their director on the homepage. Luckily, a great little virtual tour (“visita virtual” in the drop-down menu) of the museum is available on their exceedingly Flash-y, but surprisingly content-rich website. You probably weren’t going to Chile any time soon anyway, now were you?
That’s it for now, my fellow museum nerds. I could have written a great deal more, but thought you’d probably be sufficiently freaked out by now. I promise the next installment will be something else entirely — maybe actually an art museum or something. Let me know what you want in a comment below and I’ll see what I can dig up in my photo archive.