Category Archives: Mexico

Poly…fora…what?

After a 5 month Blogging Break, it’s time to get back to the murals.  And what better way to kick start my blog for 2012 than to share the largest mural in the world?

The Polyforum Siqueiros is located in Colonia Nápoles in Mexico City and houses a 500-seat Greek style round theater and two art galleries.  Designed by Manuel Suárez y Suárez, it is an integrated structure that combines architecture, mural and sculpture.  Suárez invited David Alfaro Siqueiros to design and construct the mural component which covers the 12-sided exterior of the building as well as the interior of the vaulted upper level, the Foro Universal.

Siqueiros began his design while he was imprisoned for political activism from 1960 to 1964.  Upon his release, he assembled a team of artists to create the panels, and the mural was finally completed seven years later in 1971.  It covers more than 8700 sqare meters — almost 94,000 square feet.

 

The Polyforum is shielded from Insurgentes Sur, a busy thoroughfare, by a wall featuring portraits of five Mexican artists who had a great influence on Siqueiros. 

Diego Rivera and José Clemente Orozco appear on the left.  On the right are José Guadalupe Posada (the political cartoonist), Leopoldo Méndez ( printmaker and founder of the Taller de Gráfica Popular) and Dr. Atl (the painter born Gerardo Murillo).  Other figures recall earlier Siqueiros work such as El pueblo a la universidad, la universidad al pueblo.

The 12 panels that cover the building’s exterior blend elements of mural and sculpture to present a variety of human forms and abstract images.

The interior, the Foro Universal,  is even more intense…and more difficult to understand.  The mural , titled La Marcha de la Humanidad /The March of Humanity, depicts human progress over the ages through images of creation, nature, science, and politics.  Painted on the walls and ceiling of  the domed room, visitors are entirely surrounded by the mural.  The lightining is dim (too dark for photos) which intensifies the feeling of actually being inside the mural.

I wish I could explain the meaning of this incredible work — or adequately caputre it through pictures.  I’ll have to settle for sharing the Polyforum Virtual, an interactive, 360 degree journey through the march of humanity.

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Back to CU

Recently, a friend asked me about my first (accidental) adventure in mural hunting in Mexico City.  I was visiting Ciudad Universitaria (CU), the enormous main campus of Universidad Nacional Autónomo de México in Mexico City.  CU was built in the early 1950s as a collaborative project among more than 60 architects, engineers and artists.  I was there in 2006, and a year later CU was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in recognition of its unique blend of urbanism, modern architecutre, and traditional cultural imagery.

The murals grabbed me because they are incorporated throughout the campus.  The most well-known example is the Central Library (below, right) which is wrapped in a mural by Juan O’Gorman — reportedly the largest mural in the world.

The medical school also features a massive mural, this one by Francisco Eppens.

I have CU on my list of places to visit again, especially now that I am better at photographing and documenting the murals I see.  I wish I remembered who created this work and what building this is.

Anybody know?

To another level

I just got back from a short, wonderful stay in Mexico City.  This year is the centennial of the Mexican Revolution — and the bicentennial of independence — and the city was brimming with art about the Revolution and mexicanidad (Mexican-ness, i.e. Mexican identity and culture).  Everywhere I went, I found incredible folk art, paintings, graphic design, and…murals.

This visit seemed like the perfect time to go to the Museo Nacional de Historia in the Castillo de Chapultepec.  I wanted to see the historical exhibits (which were great) and the murals by David Alfaro Siqueiros, José Clemente Orozco and Pablo O’Gorman.

Siqueiros painted De Porfirismo a la Revolucion in a dedicated gallery of the museum between 1957 and 1966.  The gallery was too small for his vision, so Siqueiros literally created more walls by designing a curving structure to paint on.  As a result, the mural stretches and snakes its way through the space, pulling the viewer into the scene.

The title is usually conveyed in English as From the Dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz to the Revolution. José de la Cruz Porfirio Díaz ruled Mexico for nearly 35 years — years that were characterized by national stability and economic growth but also by inequality and repression. On the far left of the mural, the bodies of those killed fighting the injustice of the dictatorship stretch into the horizon.

As the mural curves toward the back wall, the people rise up against the ruling elite.  They wear typical zapatista clothing, showing that they are followers of the revolutionary Emiliano Zapata.

Some of the workers carry the body of a comrade who has been killed and march toward the ruling class.  The people square off with the elite, struggling for control of the Mexican flag.  Meanwhile, at the far right, Porfirio Díaz sits in comfort watching women dance.  He is surrounded by los científicos, his technocrat advisors, and his foot rests on the Mexican Constitution.

Siqueiros concludes the scene somewhat abruptly — in the upper right corner of the final panel, he shows Porfirio Díaz brandishing a dagger and thus revealing his “true” nature.

This mural is everything I love about Mexican muralism.  It mixes art and history and identity and politics.  It’s larger than life and bursts off the walls.  I understand why people love Diego Rivera and José Clemente Orozco (and I love them too, actually).  But, for me, Siqueiros takes the art form to another level.

Head over heels

I have always liked murals.  But I fell head over heels in the spring of 2006.

On a visit to Mexico City, a friend took me to Ciudad Universitaria, the main campus of Universidad Nacional Autónomo de México (UNAM), where I was introduced to David Alfaro Siqueiros.  His murals wrap around the Torre de Rectoria, including “El pueblo a la universidad, la universidad al pueblo” (1952-1956):

His “Las fechas de las historia de Mexico” (1952-1956) is on another side of the building:

The dates represent key events in Mexican history:  1520 (conquest), 1810 (independence from Spain), 1857 (constitution of 1857), 1910 (Mexican revolution), and 19?? (a great event yet to come).

Siqueiros was one of los tres grandes (the three great ones) of Mexican muralism, along with Diego Rivera and José Clemente Orozco.  Following the Mexican revolution, they were commissioned by the government to create large-scale murals as part of the social and cultural reconstruction of the country.   Mexican muralism focused especially on the struggle of the working class and on communicating Mexico’s history to the masses.  The movement inspired artists throughout the Americas, including the US Works Progress Administration mural movement of the 1940s and the US Barrio Mural Movement beginning in the 1960s.

I followed Siqueiros and his contemporaries across Mexico City that week, visiting his work at the Palacio de Bellas Artes along with the murals of Rivera, Orozco and Rufino Tamayo at the Palacio Nacional.  Siqueiros is my favorite of the muralsists.  His work is dynamic and three dimensional, exploding off the surface of the wall.  And he directly influenced some of my favorite US muralists and non-mural-making artists.