Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Five continents on the Periférico

Setting out on the Periferico expressway in Mexico City is a daunting venture, but can become an interesting, enjoyable trip if you tune out the traffic congestion and instead focus on the public art.  Brainchild of Mathias Goeritz (1915-1990), Mexico City hosts the world's longest sculpture corridor.  Goeritz conceived of, participated in, and led a Sculpture Olympics as part of the Cultural Olympics, a two-year arts extravaganza preceding the 1968 Mexico Olympics. 

For the modern age, Goeritz wished to place sculpture along a roadway where it could be seen by those traveling by car or bus.  The sculptures would need to be massive.  Goeritz enjoined sculptors from the five continents to design 19 sculptures to line the Ruta de la Amistad (Route of Friendship), a 17-kilometer portion of the Periferico expressway leading to the Olympic Village in southern Mexico City.  Each artist was given an identical base on which to erect a monumental piece of abstract concrete sculpture designed to be viewed by passengers in vehicles in motion.  Nineteen were chosen as the number of sculptures since Mexico's was the 19th Olympiad.  Three other pieces of sculpture located at Olympic venues are part of the Scultpture Olympics, though not part of the Ruta de la Amistad.  

My personal favorites are Japan's "Spheres" by Kioshi Takahashi and Switzerland's "Anchor" by Willi Gutmann.  Both, in a sense, seem to be made up of two parts.  If turned 180 degrees they could fit together as a whole.

The sculpture representing the United States is by a particularly interesting artist, Herbert Bayer.  Born in Austria in 1900, Bayer became a U.S. citizen in 1944.   He participated in the Bauhaus movement both as a student and as a lecturer.   Early in his career he was known for his graphic designs, but later he was recognized as a painter, photographer, sculptor, interior designer, and architect.  He was considered the last living member of the Bauhaus.  Bayer's sculpture on the Periferico, known as "Articulated Wall", reminds me of a double helix.  It's the tallest of the sculptures making up the Ruta de la Amistad. Though not intentional, Bayer's Wall seems to invite climbing.  Gauging from the graffiti on it, it has been climbed many times.  

Clement Meadmore's, "Janus" represents Australia as both a country and a continent. Some see a Moebius strip; I see a swirl.  Whether using steel, bronze, aluminum, or, in the case of the Periferico, concrete, Meadmore's characteristic design is a rod, always of the same proportions, twisted into a different shape.  With it he has achieved myriad designs.  In "Janus", Meadmore included a stairway to intentionally allow visitors to climb up on top of his public sculpture and experience its change in design when seen from different angles.  Sadly, that can no longer be done.  Neighboring International Baccalaureate Colegio Olinca has appropriated Meadmore's sculpture, not only into its logo -- the "O" in its name -- but has also surrounded it with a fence.  I've always thought that the “international” school – with a number of countries flags on flagpoles visible from the Periferico -- should at least fly Australia's flag in appreciation for having appropriated the Australian sculpture.  

Three other pieces of sculpture located at Olympic venues complete the Sculpture Olympics.  One of them is Mathias Goeritz's "Big Dipper" ("Osa Mayor"), on the grounds of the Sports Palace (Palacio de los Deportes).  Tall fluted columns are positioned in the shape of the Big Dipper, when seen from above.  Indeed they are on Mexico City's airport flight path.  Look for them if you're on the left side of a plane landing from the south.  In the day when Mexico City was administered by a presidentially appointed Regent, the city government decorated the tops of Goeritz's monument to make them look like Christmas candles.  The artist demanded the columns be restored to their original design and they were.  An interesting aspect of Mexican law stipulates that artists retain control over their artwork even if sold.

I encourage you to make the drive along the Periferico soon.  Due to the construction of the second level of the Periferico, several of the Route of Friendship sculptures will be moved to other locations. It is an expressway bracketed by Mathias Goeritz with the Ruta de la Amistad at the south, and his, and Luis Barragan's, "Torres de Satélite" ("Ciudad Satelite Towers") at the north.  All in all Goeritz made a significant mark on Mexico’s City’s cityscape.

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