Mexico City at its best: art during its holidays

Come visit Mexico City! You will find it at its best: when you’re a tourist. While I feel you have to live in a city to truly be able to understand, live, and appreciate it, that doesn’t.. erhm.. always mean more delight. For us it’s highly important then to now and then step out, be a tourist, and visit those museos, iglesias, monumentos, jardines botánicos, et cetera. You should too! Go out there and enjoy the city as tourists would – why would they visit your city anyway! The Chilangos (as the derogatory term goes for Mexico Cityzens, contemporarily worn with pride) tend to fill the colonial villages annexed by the city like:

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Coyoacán, famed for being Frida Kahlo’s birthplace,

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Xochimilco, the only lake-with-floating-islands out of the five original ones before the Spanish came;

and San Ángel on Sundays too.

Semana Santa was destined to be that time for us. Loads of Chilangos visit their family wherever in the country, or go one of the numerous beach-towns Mexico is enriched with. The warm weather season was starting again, we are saving up money, so this was it. A list was made, and maybe we would even get out of the city to a nearby town (just 2-3 hours away!).

And then, it turned out I still had to teach classes. Corporate companies were still going strong, so getting out of the city for a couple of days turned out to be difficult. In between, we did find some gems in art.

And how.

Leopoldo Mendéz’ etches displayed in el Museo del Estanquillo… moved me. The way he plays with stark contrasts, combined with showcasing (references to) clear political events is difficult to simply walk by without any involvement. The man lived in a time before, during, and after the Mexican Revolution (1902 – 1969), mostly in the shadows of the ‘greater good': creating art for socialist propaganda against the rise of fascism. He deliberately chose a life behind the scenes, believing artists should be in service of the people. He did get recognition later though, but nowhere near the level of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, who sought out media attention and had the perfect drama story anyway (her becoming disabled early in her life, him touring the US as the face of Mexican art, their tumultuous life and marriage including adultery, divorce, her lesbian inclinations, etc). Anyway, let pictures speak for themselves:

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The only one I could notice where Mendez included himself. Notice the Mexican banner symbol (Eagle fighting a snake, cactus), the symbol the blades coming out of the crucifix form, The priest directing the column of armed men, and so forth.

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Watch the factory workers on the left and the woman on the right all working hard, together adding up to the pollution, the grayness that reflected the time period.

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José Guadalupe Posada in his print shop, an artist also famed for his politically oriented etches (the most famous of all being La Catrina, associated with El Día de Muertos where Halloween is pretty much derived from – I wrote about that about 2 years ago.  He is shown here during the tumultuous years of President Porfirio Díaz – a totalitarian president infamous for his oppressive rule (although not necessarily more oppressive than other presidents in that time), and famous for the rapid development to modernity he initiated.

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And some speak for themselves. Notice the man behind the ‘Wall Street death’ trying to stop him, holding the F.S.M. flag – la Federación Sindical Mundial, or the World Federation of Trade Unions, a federation with socialist/communist ideologies, in a time where the communist ideology was highly popular in Mexico. How different things could have been if Lenin and Stalin weren’t such… disappointments.

Earlier that week, we visited the Museo Soumaya – housed in an eye-catcher of a building in one of the richest neighborhoods in the city, Polanco.

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How? Carlos Slim, the richest man in the world, how. Soumaya is the name of his late wife, and he had the museum built in her honor.

Free of entrance (ha), its composition is weird, pieces seemingly haphazardly scattered around. I couldn’t shake the feeling that we were peeking into the personal collection made possible by having way too many resources allocated to one single man. A collection of bargains, although put into perspective, for a man with thus amount of resources can see bargains where others don’t.

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I must say I’m probably spoiled coming from Holland, and this is probably the lowest threshold access to some art pieces from Europe including various pieces from Dalí, Bartolomé Murillo, Tintoretto, Rodin on the top floor.

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On lower levels, there are collections of paintings by mostly Mexican artists, collections of coins (what’s the fetish with that?), a whole floor of astonishing ivory art, and…. a floor filled with memorabilia of Sophia Loren :|.

Another museum right next to the Museo Soumaya, Museo Jumex, is a huuge (huuuge) building, with lots of space and potential and.. sparsely filled with Calder – the inventor of mobiles, the toys often seen hanging above cradles – pieces in its temporary exposition. The toilets look amazing though, right out of a Hilton hotel.

Whereas the Mexican cuisine only relatively recently got ’discovered’ as amazing, and ‘worthy’ of worldwide recognition (no, not Tex-Mex, please, please) and recognition in its own country, I still feel that in the main city of the country, more Mexican artists should get their permanent collection they deserve. Even though Mexicans are proud people, the focus is still pretty much the West.

And that’s a shame.

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