Check out my new books, including:



Shipwrecks and Lost Treasures: Outer Banks


Google

Web 
This Site   

Looking for the music?
You'll find different tunes accompanying selected articles on my site. 
Click on the notes.

TIPS FOR WRITERS

Grammar
Writing Tips
Book Writing Tips
Freelance Writing Tips
Movies for Motivation
Travel Writing Tips
Tech Tips
Rights

All contents of this site
©2000-2011
  Bob Brooke Communications


AN ART AFFAIR TO REMEMBER
by Bob Brooke

 

For almost 20 years I’ve had an affair with a vivacious, sometimes naughty, effervescent, and artistic woman. People have told me that I should live with her, but I can’t, for she’s a city–Mexico City, to be exact. Here, spreading for miles on an old lake bed is a metropolis so filled with art that it has taken me this long to see most of it, but not all.

Out of all the art museums in Mexico City–some 30 of them, 25 percent of the total–I chose the Anahuacalli Museum, probably the most bizarre, hardest to find, and loneliest in the city to visit first. Even my taxi driver had to stop and ask for directions. But as he pulled up in front of what looked like a stylized Aztec pyramid, I felt that I had discovered something that few tourists ever see.

Annahuacali Museum
Mexican muralist Diego Rivera designed Anahuacalli, which means "the house of the land by the lake," to awe the visitor–and he succeeded on a grand scale. I imagine the lake in this case refers to the dried up lake bed on which the museum stands. This pyramid-like structure, built of reinforced concrete faced with pedregal, a type of volcanic rock, contains over 60,000 artifacts from this Zapotec, Toltec, Teotihuacan, Vercruz, Mixtec, Aztec cultures–the largest private collection displayed in Mexico. His friend and fellow artist and architect, Juan O’Gorman, built the eerie and mystical museum hidden away in the southern part of Mexico City. Construction began in 1933 and was completed in 1963, six years after Rivera's death.

In front of the museum is a reproduction of a Toltec ball court, and the entrance to the museum is a coffin-shaped door. Light filters in through translucent onyx slabs, supplemented by lights inside niches and wall cases containing the exhibits. Twenty-three display rooms, many with mosaic ceilings depicting dueling serpents and other pre-Hispanic symbols, are arranged in chronological order, with thousands of the pieces stashed on the shelves, tucked away in corners, and peeking out of glass cases.

The upstairs studio opened Rivera's life to my inquisitive eyes, revealing some of his personal belongings and sketches, some incomplete as if waiting his return. I saw the original sketches for some of his murals and two in-progress canvases. There's a photo of his first sketch of a train, done at the age of three, plus a color photograph of him at work later in life. A plaque in the museum proclaims him "a man of genius who is among the greatest painters of all time."

MUNAL
Back in the Centro Historico, the city’s heart, stands the Museo Nacional de Arte MUNAL–the National Arts Museum–housed in the former Palacio de Comunicaciones on the north side of Calle Tacuba, a couple blocks down from Alameda Park and probably one of the best art museums in the city. Italian architect Silvio Contri completed the reserved, gray palace in 1910, but it wasn’t converted to a museum until1982. I wandered through its 22 newly renovated galleries filled with Mexican art from the colonial era through the 20th Century. I discovered paintings by Colonial painters Miguel Cabrera, Cristobal Villalpando, and Luis Juarez showing the conquest of Mexico, romantic19th-century canvases by painters Juan Cordero, Jose Maria Velasco, and Ramon Sagredo and 20th-century masterpieces by artists such Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, Rufino Tamayo and others, plus lifesize marble sculptures of Moctezuma, Malinche, and Cortes.

Belles Artes
Less than two blocks from the National Arts Museum, the huge domed Palacio de Bellas Artes, or Palace of Fine Arts, Mexico City’s magnificent opera house, built of Carrara marble and home to the National Folkloric Ballet, loomed into view. This architectural masterpiece combines Art Deco design and murals by some of Mexico’s foremost painters–Rivera, Orozco, Siqueiros, Tamoyo, O’Gorman–with the opulence of a Art Nouveau facade. Construction began in 1904, during the presidency of Porfirio Diaz, under the supervision of Italian architect Adamo Boari. He had planned for the building to be a masterpiece of art nouveau architecture but, frustrated by interruptions wrought by the decade-long Mexican Revolution, he left Mexico in 1916 having completed only the exterior with decoration that mixed classical Greco-Roman statuary with Aztec motifs such as serpent heads and representations of Aztec warriors, most of it sculpted by Italian artists.

One of Boari's Mexican apprentices, Federico Morris Cowell, took over the design in 1932 and finished the interior of the building as well as the impressive cupolas in the Art Deco style. For the main auditorium inside, Mexican painter Gerardo Murillo designed a huge stained-glass stage curtain–Cortina de cristal–depicting the volcanoes of Popocatepetl and Ixtaccihuatl, which Tiffany Studios of New York assembled from over one million pieces of glass.

Though the building’s exterior had suffered from severe air pollution, especially the copper-laminated cupolas considered to be the best examples of Art Deco in Mexico, it has been magnificently restored to it former grandeur. Inside, I paused in the large mezzanine to look up at the light streaming in from the Palace’s three cupolas. The massive marble building is so heavy that it has already settled nearly 15 feet into the old lake bed.

Climbing the massive stairway to the second floor, I came upon one of the Palace’s highlights, a vast mural entitled "Nueva Democracia" painted in 1944 by Mexico's most famous muralist, David Alfaro Siqueiros. Siqueiros' wife served as a model for the bare breasted helmeted woman breaking out of chains in the mural. For this painting, the central panel of a larger triptych, Siqueiros used pyroxilin, a commercial enamel used for airplanes and automobiles. Diego Rivera's 1934 mural "El hombre Contralor del Universo" or Man, Controller of the Universe, occupies another wall. On the south wall, Jose Clemente Orozco 1934-35 La Katharsis depicts a confrontation of the mechanistic world with humanity in a swirl of guns, machines, and tortured human faces. Murals by other Mexican artists line the remaining walls.

Pinacoteca Virreinal de San Diego
After strolling through the Alemada, with its sparkling fountains and lovers holding hands on iron benches, I came upon the Pinacoteca Virreinal de San Diego, which houses one of the finest collections of Colonial religious paintings in the Americas. The former church and Chapel Annex of the Convento de San Diego, first constructed during the first half of the 17th century by the Franciscans, displays works of art contained rescued from monasteries and churches that closed during 19th-century secularization. Most of the paintings, usually oil on wood or oil on canvas, were originally created for retablos, the elaborate gilded altarpieces common to colonial churches, so they're large. Arranged along the walls of the former church's single octagonal nave and in an attached cloister, the 16th- and 17th- century works blend Spanish, Italian, and Flemish influences to produce a truly Mexican school of religious painting. As I gazed at the Chapel's striking blue and gilt ceiling, I marveled at the workmanship

Rivera Mural Museum
Not far from the Pinacoteca Virreinal de San Diego is a small museum containing the original of Diego Rivera’s most famous mural, "Sueno de Una Tarde Dominical en la Alameda Central" or "Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in Alameda Park," originally painted in 1947 on a wall in the Del Prado Hotel which was destroyed in the 1985 earthquake. Miraculously, the mural sustained only minor damage and was then relocated across The Reforma in a specially designed building on a side of Jardin de la Solidaridad or Solidarity Garden, a tiny square, dedicated to the memory of all those who lost their lives in the quake, built on the former site of the Hotel Regis, also destroyed during the quake.

Dominating the museum's back wall, the 49 by 13 foot mural’s park scene portrays many famous Mexican personalities, including Hernan Cortez, Porfirio Diaz, Francisco I. Madero, Emperor Maximilian and his wife Carlotta, and General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna–handing the keys to Mexico to American General Winfield Scott. Standing to the right of center of the cartoon-like mural is Frida Kahlo, holding her left-handed Taoist yang gang symbol. A self-portrait of Diego Rivera as a young boy stands in front of her.

Franz Mayer Museum
Mexican friends told me not to miss the Franz Mayer Museum, which displays thousands of Mexican antiques. So on another visit to the area around the Alameda, I wandered into this beautifully restored 16th-century building which had been used as a women’s hospital in the 18th Century. Today, it houses a collection of European, American and Asiatic art objects accumulated by the German-born, financier-philanthropist Franz Mayer and donated to the people of Mexico.

Located on the northwest corner of the Plaza de la Veracruz, the fine collection, which covers two floors, includes 16th through 19th-century Mexican ceramics, antique rebozos or Mexican shawls, religious articles, furniture, textiles, silver and gold pieces, clocks and even full cocina poblanas or tile Puebla-styled kitchens. I found the museum’s quiet courtyard café towards the back an excellent spot to relax and reflect on the beauty around me.

Museums to Frida Kahlo
On subsequent trips to Mexico City–sometimes long and other times short–I visited other museums as time allowed. Of course, I had to visit the mecca of Fridaholics, Casa Azul, Frida Kahlo’s house in Coyoacan, but even more impressive is the Dolores Olmedo Patiño Museum in the southern suburb of Xochimilco. Here I discovered the largest and best collection of Kahlo’s work, housed in the restored 17th-century Hacienda La Noria. And, like the Anahuacalli, a bit hard to find. This is the setting for Olmedo’s rotating collection of more than 600 pre-Hispanic artifacts and pieces of native art, plus 127 pieces by Diego Rivera and 25 by Kahlo.

A lifelong friend of Rivera, Olmedo became the trustee of much of Rivera's work as well as the art of two of his former wives–Kahlo and Russian artist Angelina Beloff. One of the rooms contained Rivera's painting, "In the Fountain of Toledo," another portraits of Olmedo and his 1956 series of sunsets from her home in Acapulco. But the rooms full of art are only half of the beauty of this place. The hacienda’s grounds, encompassing nearly 10 acres of beautifully landscaped gardens, are alive with strutting peacocks, as well as several Xoloitzcuintle dogs, a rare pre-Cortesian canine species that are small dark and hairless.

And so I’ll continue my quest to visit more of Mexico City’s art museums–Museo de Arte Internacional Rufino Tamayo, Museo de Arte Carrillo Gil, Museo de Arte Moderno, Museo San Carlos–the list goes on and on.

< Back to Mexico Articles                                                                                                 Go to next Mexico article >

 

All articles and photographs on this site are available for purchase by print and online publications.  
For more information contact
Bob Brooke.

Site design and development by BBC Web Services