I must confess that most of my vacations could be described by the above title. Wherever Judy and I travel we spend a great deal of time looking at art. A large percentage of our vacations are spent tracking down good museums and small galleries. A recent trip to Mexico was no exception. It may have been too short, but we came away duly saturated with the art and culture of this amazing country.
I will confess that I had very little knowledge of the breadth and depth of Mexico’s tumultuous history nor its rich cultural life before this trip. I know we barely scratched the surface, but the bit we encountered has given us appetite for more. I’m going to share a few highlights with you.
We began in San Miguel, a city that has several artistic ties to Saint John. It was here that Ted and Rosamond Campbell moved in the early 70s. Also, two current Saint John photographers, James Wilson and Mark Hemmings have been returning to San Miguel de Allende each February for the past several years to teach a photography course. Encouraged by what Jamie and Mark said of San Miguel we were excited to make our first trip here, and to stay with our friends Chris and Beverly Wood, who moved here in 2012.
San Miguel is a beautiful town, its central district a UNESCO site, with its carefully coordinated colour scheme. The architecture, the strong colours and great light make the town itself an art piece. We visited a number of galleries here, but perhaps most impressive was our visit to a converted textile mill, Fabrica La Aurora, which now houses numerous art galleries. This old mill, with its high ceilings and great bones is a wonderful venue for a concentration of galleries that showcase Mexican contemporary art.
Our second week was spent in Mexico City, which was where our education regarding Mexican history and culture really began, and where the museums are more numerous than in any other city in the world, with each one as good as the one before it.
However, prior to our first museum visit, a tour of some of the city’s central districts revealed a city enthralled with its history, its architecture and its art.
The above images give some idea of the cultural richness of this city: the heroes of the Revolution, a Diego Rivera mural on a theatre front, a quiet piece of public art along Avenue Obergon, Frida Kahlo on the bus and a green wall in a restaurant in Centro. Being a marketer at heart, I was especially appreciative of the Frida images on tour buses throughout the city. I began to wonder about possibilities within our own city. Paul Mathieson on buses throughout Saint John. Suzanne Hill images on large panels as part of beautifully designed bus stops. Great ways to celebrate our best artists and to wow visitors to Saint John. Travel to other places always brings me back with new ideas.
Over the course of several days we visited many cultural venues in Mexico City. We toured the Museo Nacional de Antropologia Mexico, arguably one of the finest museums Judy and I have ever seen. It taught us much about pre-Spanish Mexico. Alas, I have no photos. You need to trust me that it is a must if you visit Mexico City. We also visited the Museum of Modern Art and a museum devoted to the architecture of Mexico. A high point for us was a visit to the Bellas Artes in the centre of the city. This is one of the most beautiful buildings I have ever encountered. We visited its exhibition space which featured work by the late French artist, Louise Bourgeois, and attended a performance in the theatre by Ballet Folkloria. We bought the cheap seats for the performance which placed us in the upper-most balcony. Just getting to your seat was a personal “white knuckle” performance, and watching the dance felt like a Busby Berkley musical from that high vantage point, yet it was great, and well worth the altitudinal challenge.
Above: The Bellas Artes
Next on our agenda was the National Palace, which house many murals by the Mexican artist, Diego Rivera. These days his reputation has been somewhat overshadowed by that of his wife, Frida Kahlo. Nevertheless, the sheer size and complexity, along with the artistic competency, of these works is impressive. Fred Ross has told me of his meeting with Diego, his seeing work in progress and of his viewing several completed murals when he visited Mexico many years ago. I now look forward to another conversation with Fred about these large artistic works.
I have included the last image above because we were so impressed by the throngs of school children listening intently to their teachers about these paintings, the artist and about aspects of their country’s history. Similarly, when we visited the Anthropology Museum on a Sunday, we were pleased to see the large numbers of families in attendance, with children eagerly taking notes. I would like to point out that, in Mexico City, museums are incredibly affordable. We were told that the government encourages its citizens to know their history and their culture.
During our last full day in Mexico we discovered the Museo de Arte Popular. This was another highlight for us. Having come to Mexico full of curiosity about one of its most noted festivals, The Day of the Dead, we queried our friends about this important cultural institution, visited a mummy museum in Guanajuato, explored a cemetery also in that city and looked for the ubiquitous skulls wherever we went. We learned that this is an important festival for Mexicans. It is their way to honour departed loved ones and to give thanks for the life that they have been given by those who have gone before them. I think it is fair to say that not one day went by during our visit to Mexico that we did not encounter skeletal images of some sort, but here at this museum was the real deal, a complete feast of skulls, with close attention to both art and history. We spent a good part of the afternoon in this museum.
And, finally a few more images from this museum of popular art.
As we bid adios to Mexico, I’ll leave you one parting shot just to prove we did hunt down a few other things in Mexico. I hope you will forgive the slightly soft focus, given the circumstances.
Next week its back to life in Saint John and events at the gallery for 2014. Watch for notice about our first event of the year, a new BUCK & TUCK project.