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.
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.