Since 1987, the mural Abstracción integrada, by Guatemalan painter and sculptor Carlos Mérida (1891-1984), can be appreciated on Insurgentes Sur Avenue, next to the curve that leads to the University Cultural Center of the UNAM. However, this work was created in 1967 for the Champion Spark Plug Factory, built between 1964 and 1965 at 150 Poniente Street, in the Industrial Vallejo neighborhood, north of Mexico City, by architect Carlos Mijares Bracho.
"The origin of this mural, which Mijares Bracho himself commissioned in Mérida, is intimately related to what we know in Mexico as plastic integration and in other places as a synthesis of the arts, a concept that refers to the fusion between the architectural spaces of the modern movement of the 20th century and the plastic arts," says Louise Noelle Gras, a researcher at the Institute of Aesthetic Research and specialist in Mexican architecture of the last century.
Once the Guatemalan artist left his country and arrived in Mexico City in 1919, he worked as a draftsman in Teotihuacan with the anthropologist and archeologist Manuel Gamio, and between 1922 and 1923 he collaborated, along with Xavier Guerrero and Jean Charlot, in the elaboration of The Creation, Diego Rivera's first mural, painted inside the Simón Bolívar Amphitheater of the National Preparatory School, which was then located in the Antiguo Colegio de San Ildefonso (today San Ildefonso Museum).
"Later, Mérida moved away from the postulates of Mexican muralism and towards the middle of the century he returned to participate in some workshops in which plastic integration was addressed and to take an interest in what is called public art; but no longer within the current of the first Mexican muralism, which was nationalist and had a very clear and direct social message, but taking as a starting point the abstraction in the form and indigenous elements coming from the Popol Vuh, the sacred book of the Mayas, in the themes", indicates Noelle Gras.
Thus, between 1950 and 1970, Mérida painted several murals in buildings by Mexican architects, in which a strong geometric of intercepting straight lines prevails and in which, despite this, the figure of the human being is not eliminated. One of them was, of course, Integrated Abstraction (Abstracción integrada).
"Since the Champion Spark Plug Factory was located in an industrial zone and the mural was to be installed on the outside of it, Mérida decided to do it with tiles because he thought it would better resist the onslaught of pollution and, in case it suffered any damage or was graffitied, it would be easier to repair or clean it," says the researcher.
Neither social nor political
Abstracción integrada, the only mural by Carlos Mérida made with Talavera tiles from Puebla, is 34.7 meters long and 2.8 meters high.
According to an article published in Gaceta UNAM on October 10, 2005, on the completion of the restoration work it underwent that year, "its composition is structured with geometric motifs in which straight lines predominate. The curves, oblique and spiral-shaped, appear slanted to insinuate the heads of the geometrized beings that the work suggests and break the linear monotony. Likewise, it presents a monochromatic tendency integrated by dark blue and white tones."
"As for what this mural represents, I don't think it is anything specific. It shows several very geometrical humanoid figures, but I don't think they represent the workers of the Champion Spark Plug Factory happily going to work, for example... Mérida's artistic expression did not go through the social, much less the political, but through another path, a path much closer to the plastic arts," says Noelle Gras.
Integrated Abstraction Mural Donation
Back in the 1980s, the Champion company decided to close its spark plug factory in Mexico, so the director of Champion-Mexico, Gonzalo Pereira, contacted architect and designer Luis Almeida and asked him to investigate which institution or individual could take over Carlos Mérida's mural.
"Almeida, who had studied at UNAM's Faculty of Architecture, sought out the museum designers Alfonso Soto Soria and Rodolfo Rivera, who at the time were working at the University Museum of Sciences and Arts (MUCA), and told them that the Champion company was willing to donate the mural Abstracción integrada to the National University," the researcher reports.
The UNAM authorities did not hesitate for a second to accept it. After a while, it was detached - in parts, probably - and moved in 1987 to Insurgentes Sur Avenue, next to one of the entrances to the University Cultural Center, where, unlike the square layout it had at the Champion spark plug factory, it was placed on a single plane.
"It is undoubtedly an honor that this mural by a great artist like Mérida is in the University City and belongs, along with the works of other great artists, to the heritage of the UNAM," concludes Noelle Gras.