Monthly Archives: October 2011

Museo de la Estampa – NOT a Stamp Museum but a Showcase for Graphic Art

A sampling of graphic work currently on display at the Graphic Art Museum

The Museo de la Estampa (MUNAE) is NOT a museum dedicated to stamps as this false cognate might insinuate, but rather a museum devoted to graphic art, prints and engravings, inaugurated in 1986 to fill the gap in public space earmarked for graphic work.  Do not be put off by the building’s semi-abandoned, somewhat dilapidated façade, particularly in contrast to the oft visited and highly lauded neighboring Franz Mayer Museum to its left.  Both museums are located on the Plaza de la Santa Veracruz (on Hidalgo Avenue), flanked by two churches (San Juan de Dios and The Santa Veracruz Parish Church built in 1586, one of the oldest in Mexico City, from which the plaza gets its name), behind the Alameda Park, yet the Museo de la Estampa rarely gets its due of publicity, and is seldom visited.

The somewhat abandoned aspect of the building housing the Museum

Don’t miss the MUNAE’s currently show entitled “The Double Fold Dream of Art; 2RC – Between the Artist and the Artifact.”    “2RC,” for those unfamiliar with the art world, is one of the most important and well-known contemporary graphic art printing houses, founded in Italy by Valter and Eleonora Rossi. This itinerant exhibit has already toured the United States (in Chicago, Indianapolis and San Francisco) as well as Russia and Saint Petersburg, Indonesia and Japan, and includes the collective work of 40 conceptual European artists, representative of the contemporary graphic arts movement of the 60s, including Francis Bacon, Lucio Fontana, Eduardo Chillida, Henry Moore (studies for his later sculptures), Man Ray, Julian Schnabel and many, many more.

A colonial structure refurbished to house exceptional graphic work

The 160 pieces on display aim to illustrate the idea behind the title of this show.  Although many art forms are achieved solely by the artist (oil painting, sculpting, water color, etc.), graphic arts, by nature, demand a collaborative effort of many players.  This genre of art is produced through teamwork, as required by the process itself.

Another sample of the work coming from the Roman Worshop 2RC

Even if you are not a fan of contemporary art, be sure to check the MUNAE’s calendar of ongoing exhibits which rotate regularly, since the realm of graphic art is amazingly broad – encompassing pre-Hispanic art (made from clay seals which, by definition, fall under the category of print work) to pieces by Dali or Picasso, part of the museum’s permanent collection, and everything in between, including notable Mexican artists who worked in this medium such as Jose Guadalupe  Posada (known for his Catrina skeletons), and Siqueiros and Tamayo, whose works are shown sporadically.  Definitely worth a visit to the grimier northern edge of the city’s first urban park!

An upclose view of a 1980 work of Victor Pasmore


Presidential Assassin or Future Saint?

(I apologize for posting so sporadically this month.  I have had SERIOUS tech issues with my photo management software, which seem to be unresolvable, so after almost a month of frustrating, time-wasting effort I have changed software programs and I can now see and use my photos again!  Time will tell if the glitch has been solved permanently. Keep your fingers crossed for me!)

Tucked tucked away in the Colonia Roma district of Mexico City, for very defined interests, the Museo de Padre Pro (Museum of Father Pro) showcases the life of a very controversial figure in Mexican religion and history.  Father Pro was a charismatic Jesuit priest who studied and lived in the United States, Spain, Belgium and Nicaragua before repatriating to Mexico in 1926.  Unfortunately, he returned to a nation convulsing in the bloody Cristero War. The dubious relationship between Miguel Agustín Pro and the assassination of President Álvaro Obregón is addressed face on in this permanent exhibit.

Mexican history is not easy to understand, and this chapter of Mexican history, in particular, is a complicated one.  It was President Benito Juarez who separated Church and State over 150 years ago, but this mandate was not easily enforced.  Even with the last and current Constitution (of a series of 6!), the government continued to view the Catholic Church as a foe.  The framework of that Constitution, when passed in 1917, clearly forbade religious instruction in schools (Article 3), prohibited public worship outside of ecclesiastic buildings (Article 24), restricted religious organizations the right to own property (Article 27), and went to the extreme of stripping priests, ministers and rabbis the freedom of wearing religious garb in public, participating in politics and even commenting on government policy (Article 130).  These restrictions were repealed only recently, under the government of President Ernesto Zedillo in 1998, to be specific, but it is important to note that these anti-clerical laws were strictly enforced when Father Pro returned to Mexico.

Plutarco Elias Calles, Mexico’s President between1924-1928, cracked his whip on the Catholic Church, by implementing even more rigorous legislation than that stipulated in the Constitution, under the guise of the so-called “Calles’ Laws,” thereby limiting clerical civil liberties such as the clergy’s right to vote or receive trial by jury. 

Father Pro was a warm, caring priest, sympathetic to religious factions.  He held  mass in secret and became a social activist helping hundreds of impoverished families financially and spiritually, thus falling into Calles’ disfavor.  Pro was eventually linked to President Obregón’s assassination in 1928, when, according to Museum information, his brother Humberto, sold his car, which was used as a get away vehicle by the assassins of Obregón.  To his misfortune, Humberto had forgotten some personal papers in the glove compartment of the car, linking him directly to the murder scene.  Given Pro’s antagonistic relationship with the Calles government, the President arrested him along with two of his brothers,  accusing them of sabotage and terrorism.  Father Pro and his brother Humberto were executed without due process, within the framework of the Calles’ Laws – without a trial and without concrete proof involving them in the crime (their brother Ramon, who was not clergy, was released).  Calles, in order to send a message to religious activists, went to the extreme of carefully documenting the police firing squad execution, photographing the details of the event and printing the pictures in the national press the following day.

Father Pro was vindicated, at least by the Catholic church, when he was beatified by Pope John Paul on September 25th, 1988, on the anniversary marking his execution.  His remains are deposited to the right of the main altar of the church adjacent to the museum, the Sagrada Familia, an emblematic landmark in Colonia Roma which was built when the then fashionable neighborhood was being urbanized roughly a century ago.

This museum appears to me to be doubling as the official platform to promote the cause of Pro’s sainthood. There is a wide discrepancy in the number of lives reported lost in this oft forgotten chapter of Mexican history, with estimates running between 90,000 and 250,000 depending on the source.  Guilty or innocent, there is finally a museum in Mexico City which recalls the tragic ending of Pro’s life and pays tribute to the thousands who died on both sides of this little-talked-about war, assuring that the Cristero War and the people who lost their lives fighting for freedom of religion, will not be forgotten, regardless as to whether Pro is sanctified or not.


Colorful Sculptures Dot Drab Downtown Plaza

Sebastian's vivid sculptural oasis in downtown Mexico City

 “Sebastian in the Tower” is the name of a current public art exhibit of well-known modern Mexican sculptor Sebastian.  A series of 13 signature medium and large format sculptures, produced from 1980 to date, dot the otherwise drab open courtyard behind the Latin American Tower, hence the name of the show, which shares space with the side atrium of the San Francisco Church in bustling downtown Mexico City.  The elastic, colorful figures are on open-air display in this high pedestrian traffic zone in attempt, according to the artist, to bring his work closer to those who do not habitually frequent museums.  And given that these vibrant, free-form steel and aluminium structures can be appreciated free of charge, are easily accessible, and are hard to miss, they certainly have attracted many on-lookers.

The sculptures to the backdrop of Sanborn's House of Tiles

The names of the works are as animated as the pieces themselves: Conspicuous, Arch of Torus, Shuayo, Tzompantli, the Scorpio, etc.  Among Sebastian’s latest monumental pieces (NOT on display here) is a 60-meter tall X-shaped sculpture to be placed on the Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua – El Paso,Texas border, which will double as a look-out tower.  Why an “X”?  According to the sculptor, the letter X carries an important historic weight. It was Benito Juarez who changed the official spelling of the country from “Mejico” – which, by the way, is still used in Spain today – to “Mexico,” thus giving the nation a new identity, to reflect its true nature of a mixed (mestizo) or assimilated race.  With this latest project, the sculptor attempts to integrate observers into his art work by allowing them the option to climb the X-shaped object de art.

Perhaps Sebastian’s most recognized work is El Caballito, which crowns the busy intersection of Reforma and Avenida Juarez.  Replacing Manuel Tolsá’s famous masterpiece equestrian sculpture of Charles the IV (which was moved in front of the MUNAL Museum, gracing the plaza named after the Spanish neoclassical architect and sculptor), el Caballito doubles as a chimney for the city’s updated deep drainage system, and often spouts white billows of smoke.

The world's most elegant (and expensive) chimney!

The Chimalli Warrior, another work in process, made headlines in August, when it slipped as it was being hoisted to its new home in the Mexico City suburb of Chimalhuacán.  The 60-meter, fire-engine red sculpture, weighing 500 tons, suffered minor dents and scuffs which will require touch up work before its inauguration in 2012.  Again, as is the tendency of Sebastian’s oeurve, it will serve a double purpose – acting as an artistic landmark as well as a light beam to illuminate the zone. Costing 30 million pesos, the Chimalli Warrior required creative financing – aside from funds underwritten by the local government, donations were collected and miniature scale models of the piece were sold to cover expenses.

No need to wait till next February to see the Chimalli Warrior.  Take a stroll down Madero Street, half a block from the Eje Central and check out Sebastian’s vibrant repertoire to the backdrop of the Latin American Tower, and Sanborn’s House of Tiles.