Enrique Krauze’s Mexico City
Mexico City may not appear, at first sight, to be an international capital of art, but it is, though in a relatively unassuming way. A few weeks ago we had a splendid exhibition of English landscape painting and a series of concerts by Joshua Bell and the symphony of the Academy of Saint Martin in the Fields. It was part of the “Year of the United Kingdom in Mexico,” an exchange program lasting through the end of 2015. (Mexico reciprocated with a lavish exposition in Liverpool on the world of the Maya.) For the coming summer we are expecting a series of truly impressive shows.
Exhibitions of Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci have come to Mexico for the first time. The two shows share the stage in the Palacio de Bellas Artes, a handsome Art Nouveau building dating back to the beginning of the twentieth century. “Miguel Ángel Bounarroti: Un artista entre dos mundos” (Michelangelo Buonarotti: An Artist Between Two Worlds) displays thirty works by the great Florentine, among them sculptures of David-Apollo and Christ Carrying the Cross as well as sketches and preliminary designs for the paintings of the Sistine Chapel. There are also forty works directly inspired by Michelangelo, including ones by Raphael and various painters of Spain and the Americas.
“Leonardo da Vinci y la idea de la belleza” (Leonardo da Vinci and the Idea of Beauty) tries to illustrate the intrinsic links between art and science. It is a small but exquisite show of eleven original works by the artist and four pieces from his circle. The two most important inclusions are the Codex on the Flight of Birds and Study for the Angel in The Virgin of the Rocks.
And very soon, in another sumptuous building, the annex to the National Museum of Art, there will be an exhibition on “The Spanish Monarchy in Art,” with contributions from forty-five Mexican and international collections. It will explore, primarily through painting, the historical Spanish and Mexican devotion to the monarchy. It will be displayed in four rooms: “the iconographic inheritance of the indigenous past”; “the royal effigy,” showing the political use of these portraits; “the messianic monarchy,” which will explore the religious aspect of the monarchy; and, finally, “echoes of monarchy in Independent Mexico.” Works by Francisco de Zurbarán, Diego Velázquez, and Francisco Goya will be included. The public may also be surprised by the portraits done by seventeenth and eighteenth-century Mexican painters (like Cristóbal de Villalpando and Miguel Cabrera) accomplished through desire and imagination, since no Spanish monarch set foot for in the Americas for hundreds of years.
The entry charges for these exhibitions are quite reasonable (and free on Sundays) and, as always, they attract and will attract a large audience. An old tradition of state support for culture and the arts is alive and well in Mexico, which was how the great Mexican mural movement (Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, and David Alfaro Siqueiros) arose and reflected the ideals of the Mexican Revolution. Though the historical reality may have remained rather far from utopia, the encouragement for artistic creation and the respect and enthusiasm of the Mexican people for the arts have endured across the generations. And the encounter is in a period of renewal, with a significant expansion of galleries and public exhibitions.
On weekends, the historic center of Mexico City is a spectacle worth seeing. Hundreds of thousands of people, often entire families, pass through the plazas, the parks, the churches, and the streets, full of colonial buildings, traditional restaurants, and artistic exhibitions of every kind. On the day the Michelangelo show opened, six thousand people lined up in waiting to enter on a rainy morning. One of them commented, as he left the show, “Someday we will say: I saw Da Vinci and Michelangelo at the Palace of Fine Arts.”
—Translated from the Spanish by Hank Heifetz.
Mexico City, Mexico