Sunday, February 17, 2019

Mexico City

On day eight of our trip we traveled from Malinalko to our last stop, Mexico City. Our bus took us directly to the home of Luis Ramiro Barragán (1902-1988) the renowned Mexican Modernist architect.  Unfortunately, one had to take the guided tour, which so often defeats its own goals.  We were fed the party line like, “the architect knew how to create wonderful corners.”  Some rooms had reproductions of famous artists’ works which we were told were original to the house.  It seemed strange for an architect who was successful at a time when works by artists such as Rouault were not that expensive. For reasons I cannot explain they put in special exhibitions.  Only the curator would be able to explain the choices of these large and intrusive works by local artists inserted in the rooms. If the house had been kept clean without clutter as it must have meant to be one could have better appreciated the innovative architect who had built it.

Mexicans have their main meal at lunch, so again we were taken to  a well-known restaurant, for a pre-ordered multi-course menu.  I guess some people travel to eat but these heavy lunches, for me, made the rest of the day more difficult as we did not take the traditional siesta.   Instead we continued on our own to the museum built around the incredible Diego Rivera mural “Sunday in the Alameda Park”, where he depicted himself as a child surrounded by figures from Mexican history. We had seen before, but it was certainly worth another visit.  Below another detail from the mural.

We had also been to the Franz Mayer museum the year before but went with the group the next day. The masterpiece of this remarkable decorative arts collection is the great biombo (screen) showing the Conquest of Mexico by the Spanish on the recto and Mexico City (not shown) on the verso.

On our second day in the capital we started out at the Cathedral with an additional guide who is one of the foremost historians in the field, Dr. Clara Bargellini.  Unfortunately, there was a Mass, so we could not see the high altar or visit the sacristy.  We had also seen these on our last trip, but I would have thought they would have known that it was open every day, for certain hours, only  in the afternoon.  The good news was that Dr. Bargellini and one of our group Donna Pierce Smith, scholar and long-time curator at the Denver Museum, took us instead to some churches we would not have otherwise seen.  In Santo Domingo we got into the sacristy where there is a major work by Christóbal de Villalpando, an artist I wrote of in  my last Missive.   The extremely large painting is placed in such a small space to that I can only show you a detail.

We went on to The Church of the Lady of the Pillar, an 18th century convent church, fascinating, in that the nuns had to worship  behind screens.  Here is an image of the Church interior with its main altar. Above the side altars  you can see the screens that shielded the nuns from view.

Our 10th day of the trip was occupied by an excursion to Xochimilco,  a one-hour bus ride (1 ½ hours on the way back as Mexico City traffic makes L.A. seem empty). At the lake which is all that remains of the water that surrounded the Aztec city, we boarded a narrow barge propelled by a strong boatman steering from the rear.  There was a table with guacamole, chips and other foods down the center of the boat. We were lead beyond the tourist area by  an entrepreneurial farmer who is renewing  the traditions on the  islands formed for the agriculture that fed Mexico City.  We debarked briefly to see some of his plantings.  On the way back on the lake we passed a Mariachi band, past its prime, that wished to come along side to serenade us and be compensated for their labor, but we declined.

The next day after a visit to  the National Museum of Art  with the group we  broke away to see an exhibition of the Mexican photographer, Graciela Iturbide (b. 1942) held on two floors of the Banamex Culture Palace. One of her teachers at university was Manuel Álvarez Bravo and she even traveled with him for a year.  She is an unbelievably versatile artist. I think that her photographs of people are her strongest suit but her still life images  also capture unexpected slices of life, like the string of dead pheasants tied to a bike leaning against a wall.  When we returned home, we saw that “The Week” magazine had published as its Exhibit of the Week a “Graciela Iturbide’s Mexico” which is on view on at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.  In its review The New York Times published her photo of “Our Lady of the Iguanas” which I am showing here, as well as my favorite photo depicting three women which was also in the Banamex show.

The last stop on our culture tour of Mexico City was the famous National Museum of Anthropology. I had not been here before and was eager to go after  our visit to the Amparo Museum’s Pre-Columbian collection in Puebla (which I wrote about last week).  It is so large that I would advise several visits. The exhibits are divided into sections according to the cultures in different parts of the country and there are many monumental show stopping objects.  A theme that seemed to be repeated in different periods was the Acrobat.  The one illustrated is a vase from Tlatilco, Mexico from the period called Middle Preclassic (2500-250 BCE).   Whatever you think of taking archeological objects from their original sites you have to be impressed with the material they have assembled under one roof in this museum.

Let us just end on a farewell note with an evening view from the air.

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