Once you cross the entrance door of the Fernando Hiriart Balderrama building of the Engineering Institute (II) of the UNAM, in Ciudad Universitaria, you can see, on the wall to the left, the sculpture-mural Carta Geométrica ("Geometric Chart"), by Vicente Rojo, a plastic artist, designer and editor from Spain who became a Mexican citizen and arrived in Mexico in 1949.
Rojo designed this work commissioned by the ICA Foundation to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Institute and it was inaugurated on August 31, 2007, when Juan Ramón de la Fuente was the rector of UNAM.
"Carta Geométrica is a significant work within Rojo's artistic production during the last 25 years of the last century, that is when he received commissions for public works," says Cuauhtémoc Medina González, from the Institute of Aesthetic Research and chief curator of the University Museum of Contemporary Art (MUAC).
What Rojo proposed, according to Medina González, was a relief with a relatively simple composition. Five levels form a sort of pentagram. The first functions as a base and the remaining four, from bottom to top, show three rows of 16 rhombuses, 16 cubes, and 16 spheres each, and, finally, one of 31 cylinders, which generate a horizontal landscape.
"This work is located in the middle of a transitional period. Vicente Rojo was closing the long stride of his Escenarios series and was about to open the Escrituras series, so we can perceive something in it that could belong to either of those two moments of his artistic production," adds the university researcher.
A year earlier, in 2006, Rojo made a painting and a silkscreen (the latter was published by Taller La Siempre Habana) with the same title and practically the same design, and shortly after he announced that he would use the title Carta geográfica to start another series, which did not happen.
In this regard, Medina Gonzalez comments, "As the Escenarios series was reaching its closing phase, perhaps Rojo thought that his next period of work could be devoted to another series made up of geometric plans and maps, but eventually the Escrituras series replaced this idea."
As for the title, Carta geométrica, it should be noted that it was given to all those ancient European maps that had scientific measurements.
"There is a very important one of Galicia, from 1834; however, it is difficult to know if Rojo had that topographical reference in his head when he conceived Carta geométrica or it is a mere coincidence. Now, unlike his painting, in which he applied a method of destruction and construction, of trial and error, this work was clearly made from a premeditated design."
Spirit of modernity
According to the researcher, when it was inaugurated at the National Center for the Arts in 2000, Rojo defined his work Escenario abierto as an anti-mural, because he did not want to carry the implications of muralism in Mexican culture, which he undoubtedly considered a reference, but a negative because of the way it produced a series of rather authoritarian and problematic hypotheses in relation to the role of the artist.
"That is why, at the beginning of his career, Rojo marked a distance from muralism and tried to make a mural work that did not respond to any muralist expectations, not only because he was an abstract artist who rejected ideologized and propagandistic contents, and the promotion of a rhetorical identity, but also because he hoped that that kind of object would become part of the architecture, instead of being something like an argumentative addition," he says.
Rojo's public works lack a sense of personality and any kind of expression. Geometric Chart was no exception. Hence, he approached it from anonymity (it has no signature), in the hope that it would be integrated into his space.
"Although Carta Geométrica is attached, without much grace, to a rather simple architectural space, such as the entrance to the main building of the Engineering Institute of the UNAM, it embodies a spirit of modernity and high technique," says Medina González.
Made of stainless steel
Like the rest of Rojo's public works, this sculpture-mural, measuring 5.20 meters long by 2.11 meters high by .20 meters deep, is based on a very strict design. ICA was in charge of making it with unrelenting steel, a material that, according to the plastic artist himself, was akin to engineering (stainless steel is also closely linked to high-tech, an architectural style that emerged in the 1970s).
To conclude, the researcher makes a last reflection about Carta Geométrica: "Although this sculpture-mural does not have the features of the first works of the Escrituras series, which usually evoke the gesture of the letter through an allusion to an element of writing, it does contain a pattern in which we can observe some gestures that become signs in a kind of lines. So, taking into account the time in which Rojo designed it, it is either the head of a series that was interrupted or it is a piece that opens the path that, during his last 15 years, would lead the master to rethink, in terms of abstraction, the form of the letter."