The History of Mural Modern Mexico, Country of Ancient Culture
The history of the mural "Modern Mexico, country of ancient culture" began in 1957, when the Guanajuato artist José Chávez Morado was commissioned to create the main piece for the Mexican pavilion at the Universal and International Exposition in Brussels in 1958.
Today it adorns one of the exterior walls of Preparatoria 4, Plantel Vidal Castañeda y Nájera; however, the history of the mural México moderno, país de antigua cultura (Modern Mexico, country of ancient culture) began in 1957, when the Guanajuato artist José Chávez Morado was commissioned to create the main piece of the Mexican pavilion at the Universal and International Exposition of Brussels, which took place in 1958. The event was the first of its kind after World War II and is intended to show the union of the Western world amid the Cold War. This was recalled by José de Santiago Silva, professor emeritus of the Faculty of Arts and Design:
"At the Universal and International Exposition of Brussels, it was given as a kind of vindication of the West, as the part that prevails after the war conflict. Consequently, it has a lot of propaganda about the economic and political systems of the West; it is a kind of confrontation with the Soviet bloc that at that time was in full empowerment of a good part of European geopolitics. The idea was to make a more humane recomposition of the world, a reorganization with a view to fraternity and twinning of peoples. This was, let's say, the leitmotiv. On the other hand, they put as an extremely important element the issue of Western technology and, among other things, nuclear energy," recalled the specialist.
The Mexican pavilion was designed by Fernando Gamboa - "museographer par excellence at that time"-, who decided to invite Chávez Morado. "Gamboa, who had had as a precedent a great exhibition of Mexican art -from pre-Hispanic times to the present day- which was first in Paris and was a resounding success, because they brought colossal pieces -such as the Olmec head, which was on the staircase of the exhibition venue-", stressed Jose de Santiago Silva.
The space also had the contribution of architects Pedro Ramírez Vázquez and Rafael Mijares, who "designed a pavilion in extremely appropriate terms for the exhibition: discreet, so that the contents were the ones that stood out. The exhibition was a success for Mexico because it won several important awards: 17. The success and impact of Mexican culture were truly remarkable.
For the person in charge of the Coordination of Research, Dissemination, and Cataloguing of Art Collections at the Faculty of Arts and Design, Mexico's participation in Brussels took place at a time when "the Mexican School of Painting was highly consolidated, there was a kind of maturing of ideas. Something like an association had been established between the Mexican school and the political power that commissioned significant works. One of the most important collaborators in that conjunction was, precisely, José Chávez Morado, invited by Gamboa to give the frontal image to the exhibition".
Originality of the mural México moderno, país de antigua cultura (Modern Mexico, country of ancient culture)
When José Chávez Morado designed México moderno, país de antigua cultura, he took advantage of the experience cultivated during the creation of his murals that can be seen in Ciudad Universitaria -The Return of Quetzalcóatl, Science and Work and The Conquest of Energy-, a period of great technical experimentation for the artist.
"In the years before 1958, there had been a process of experimentation in monumental public art that constituted the second stage of Mexican muralism. The first stage involved all the mechanisms of traditional mural art: fresco, encaustic, and tempera, the traditional techniques of this genre. But, in the construction of Ciudad Universitaria, Juan O'Gorman, José Chávez Morado and Diego Rivera began to experiment with other possibilities of mural work, such as mosaic," argued José de Santiago Silva.
"Both O'Gorman, Chávez Morado, and Diego resorted to a different modality, which was to look for colored stones throughout the national territory. They were developing alternative techniques for the realization of this procedure, which was at that time completely original because the mosaic was conventionally developed with the Venetian technique or the Greco-Roman technique, which is the association of small colored glass. In this case, they were stones and curiously have a pictorial condition as a very harmonious color mute, because they do not have such violent contrasts that can give the glass mosaics.
From that, a lot of possibilities are tested. In the beginning, they made direct applications of the stones on a flattened lime and sand; then, who achieved the synthesis of this system was O'Gorman in the Central Library, where they began to work in sections from a general project. They divide by uniform tasks with squares, of a determined dimension, they do them separately on the floor itself and then they anchor it to the wall. This is the technique used by Chávez Morado", added the specialist.
It is in this technical decision that lies the originality of modern Mexico, a country of ancient culture, since "he included glass and other materials, some stone, others not because he also used ceramics. If you look carefully, you can see in some fragments the places where he used ceramics, the others where he used mostly colored stone and other glass that gives extremely interesting reflections.
Following the theme proposed for Mexico's participation in the Universal and International Exposition of Brussels -humanism, the history of humanity, and the brotherhood of the peoples of the world-, said the professor emeritus, the piece "resorted to the concept of the use of technology as part of the empowerment of the human being for the benefit for the production of satisfiers in egalitarian and democratic terms".
"It synthesizes its message from a colossal character with indigenous characteristics, of course, to typify that it is the mestizo ethnicity, but with preponderantly indigenous characteristics, which embraces or groups in his chest a series of technological resources, such as gears, oil processing towers, and atomic structure; also, it puts in the lower part the origins, which are the roots; then, in a higher level, it puts the diverse human groups that are integrated into the national miscegenation, and, finally, in the upper part, the technology and the use of human resources with a view to distributive justice".
This mural combines the original principles of Mexican muralism: "a social realism of utility and contribution to the socio-political development of the community, and at the same time vindicates the fact that there are very deep roots in Mexican culture and that they have as a contemporary reality an art committed to the political evolution of the Mexican people. It can be said that it is a synthesis of the historical moment".
Despite the success that the 1958 Brussels exhibition meant for Mexico, there were very serious criticisms of the fact that our country was still involved in a political discourse that, at the historical moment that the West -particularly the United States of America- was experiencing, seemed not very bright, not very current and, to some extent, against the grain of avant-garde art, abstract expressionism or geometrism, which by those years was already beginning to develop as the aesthetic banner of the Western hemisphere.
"The Soviet Union had abandoned the avant-garde and had begun to make a very conservative art in aesthetic terms, but of social solidarity and with very rigorous academic principles, very little current and integrated to modernity. We have as a synthesis a kind of contradiction in the Mexican message, he had that confrontation with the critics, but he also had the great recognition for the talent of the contents of the work that was exhibited at that time."
"It is interesting to note the fact that the National University, in some way, is a decisive factor in the development of the second stage of Mexican muralism and, what I consider, the third stage which is the walkable sculpture, in which we also had a great intervention in sculptural sets, such as those that adorn a good part of the facilities of Ciudad Universitaria and other university campuses throughout the country," added the professor.
A brilliant piece
José de Santiago Silva had a very close relationship with Maestro Chávez Morado and recapitulated that the latter did not consider modern Mexico, a country of ancient culture among "his most brilliant production; he had reservations about it. Finally, it is congruent with the global discourse of Maestro Chávez Morado, that despite having been very close to the Mexican State, he kept the discourse of the vindication of social classes and the homogenization of distributive justice. That is the leitmotiv of all his work and, from the point of view of the palette and the drawing treatment, it is extremely brilliant."
"It is a very balanced mural, we can observe the predominance in the lower part of horizontal lines that are going to support a series of vertical lines that give stability to the work, but that is broken with very clear diagonals and undulating curved lines that give it movement."
For the emeritus, the presence of the mural on the walls of Preparatory 4 is a demonstration that "the University in all its faculties, schools and institutes has had a vocation for the accumulation of very important mural works, of very clear monumental art. The monumental wealth of the University is enormous".