Posts Tagged ‘Vica Amuchastegui’

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A Botero Sculpture in Our Own Backyard

Wednesday, September 5th, 2012

Botero's sculpture "The Horse" is on display indefinitely at El Triangulo in Col. Las Animas.Fernando Botero is one of the most important artists in Latin America, perhaps best recognized for his bronze sculptures and painting of plump people, animals, and other figures. To celebrate his 80th birthday this spring, the Palace of Fine Arts in Mexico City held a major exhibition of 177 pieces representing various periods of his career. In June, shortly after the close of the show, one of its large-scale sculptures, “The Horse,” was installed in the city of Puebla. It’s on display indefinitely at El Triangulo mall at the corner of Circuito Juan Pablo II and Boulevard Atlixco in Colonia Las Animas.

A sculptor, painter, muralist, and illustrator, Botero was born in Medellin, Colombia, in 1932 and has been part of the world art scene for more than 45 years. Botero typically represents universal themes in a figurative way: His work is widely recognized by its exaggerated and disproportionate volumes. Just as Flemish artist Peter Paul Rubens idealized female beauty as a full-figured woman during the Baroque period, which gave rise to the term “Rubenesque,” the women known as “Las Gordas de Botero” (Botero’s Fat Ladies), as they are affectionately called in Spanish, are the maximum expression of “Boterismo.”

“Boterismo” is tough to classify, but it’s generally considered to be part of the Naïve movement, due to the artist’s simple technique and the use of many colors (in his paintings). However, one of the characteristics of Naïve Art — the impression of simplicity — cannot be applied to Botero, because some of his works deal with contemporary or painful issues, such as politics, death, and personal vices, albeit in a satirical and ironic way. For a long time, the Naïve style was considered childish and was not recognized as art, but more recently artists like Botero, Henri Rousseau, Grandma Moses, and Alfred Wallis have become appreciated for their refreshing worldviews.

Today, Fernando Botero has a major influence and presence in Mexico. In addition to “The Horse” sculpture on display in Puebla, other works can be seen at the Museo Soumaya in Mexico City and the Esplanade of Heroes in Monterrey.

This is not the first time a large public art sculpture has toured Puebla: A dozen larger-than-life works by beloved and celebrated Mexican artist Juan Soriano, adorned the zócalo as part of a national tour of his work in 2006; he died that same year. Meanwhile, permanent monumental sculptures include “El Hombre Azul,” by Bolivian artist (and Puebla resident) José Miguel Bayro in Paseo de San Francisco, and “The Guardian Angel,” by Mexican artist Sebastián, which since its installation in 2003 has become a landmark of the city.

—Vica Amuchastegui

El Triangulo, located at 35 Poniente #3515 in Colonia Las Animas, is open from seven days a week from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. To get there from downtown, take bus route 72-A on Boulevard 5 de Mayo (from the Cathedral side of the street, or opposite the Convention Center).

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Porfirian Architecture: A Bit of Paris in Puebla

Monday, January 30th, 2012

Stained-glass dome at El Mercado La VictoriaWhen Spanish settlers founded Puebla in 1531, they set out to design the “perfect” city — one that would serve, among other things, as a key transportation hub for New Spain. Located in the fertile valley of Cuetlaxcoapan, Puebla offered the newcomers ample natural resources and a strategic stop along the route from Veracruz to Mexico City.

Puebla grew quickly during Colonial times and soon emerged as one of the most important cities in Mexico. President Porfirio Díaz — who’d made his name as a general in the Battle of Puebla in 1862 — held Puebla and other cities up as examples of what he envisioned Mexico to be: a modern country on par with first-world nations like France, Great Britain, and the United States. During his presidency (1876-1880 and 1884-1911), Díaz improved the country’s railroads and telegraphs and commissioned statues and buildings. The latter blended various styles to create an aesthetic so distinct that is has its own name, arquitectura porfirista, or Porfirian architecture. Many of the public and private buildings constructed during this period took cues from European architecture, particularly the Art Nouveau and Neoclassical movements in France.

In the book Arquitectura porfirista, author Elena Segurajauregui Álvarez writes that Porfirian architecture “not only followed guidelines established by European and North American schools, but, in order to effectively apply them, in many cases the architects as well as the projects and materials [Italian marble, European granite, bronze, stained glass] were imported.” In addition, Mexican architects studied in Paris and Madrid to gain the proper perspective and skills necessary to help realize Díaz’s vision.

Edificio de la Ciudad de MéxicoAround the turn of the 20th century, Puebla’s architecture and development took on the Porfirian style. Although the city’s urban plan remained intact, new gardens and plazas were created. Many Colonial buildings — stores, homes, convents — were demolished to make way for new mansions that imitated French ones. The most representative building of the time is arguably the Edificio de la Ciudad de México (2 Norte #6, Centro Histórico; pictured above). Its iron frame differs so greatly from those typical of Puebla that it inevitably catches the eye of passersby: Rather than brick and ceramic tile, it features metal, stone, and glass. The building could easily belong on a Parisian street, but thankfully it is in Puebla for visitors and locals to enjoy!

According to the UDLAP’s Capilla del Arte website, the ironwork was imported from France by the firm Schwartz & Meurer for the Lions Hermanos Company, with the intention of emulating the design of La Samaritaine, a popular department store in Paris. Since its inauguration in 1910 as an upscale department store called La Ciudad de México, the building has served as a symbol of modernism in Puebla. Today the building houses a Vips restaurant (downstairs) and an exhibition space (upstairs).

The plaque at El Mercado La Victoria is a popular spot for taking photos of feet.Another notable Porfirian building is the former Mercado La Victoria (5 de Mayo, between 4 and 8 Poniente). Its construction, directed by architect Julián de Saracíbar, began in 1856 in what was once the Santo Domingo convent’s garden. The market was inaugurated in 1913, and for decades served as the city’s main food distribution center. In 1999, its tenants were relocated and the market reopened a commercial shopping center. The site’s best-known feature is its stained-glass dome (pictured above), below which visitors will find a plaque on the floor that notes the latitude and altitude of Puebla. This is a common spot to take feet photos (like ours, at right).

Visitors can also observe Porfirian elements in the Palacio Municipal (Portal Hidalgo 14, Centro Histórico). English architect Charles J. Hall redesigned Puebla’s City Hall at the end of the 19th century in the Neoclassical and Renaissance styles, with beveled glass, vegetable motifs, and the use of iron in the handrails and window balustrades. Meanwhile, various private residences were constructed during the Porfirian era. Two of the most stunning are the Casa Presno (Avenida Juan de Palafox #208) and the affectionately named Casa de los Enanos, or House of Dwarves (Avenida Juárez at 17 Sur). Both homes appear very French, with metal, glass, stained glass, natural-shaped ornaments, domes, and iron rails. The Presno House is now part of the BUAP University and may be visited on weekdays, but the Casa de los Enanos is a private home that may be admired only from the sidewalk. —Vica Amuchastegui

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Touring Two of Cholula’s Magnificent Churches

Thursday, November 3rd, 2011

Fans of religious architecture shouldn’t miss a visit to San Andrés Cholula, where two churches — Santa María Tonantzintla and San Francisco Acatepec — provide magnificent examples of local craftsmanship and the region’s blended Spanish-indigenous influence. Each structure is special and important in its own way, with one displaying its splendor on the inside and the other on the outside.

Tonantzintla's relatively plain facade gives visitors no indication of the splendor inside.Santa María Tonantzintla could be one of the most enchanting places of worship ever constructed in Mexico. Located just six miles from downtown Puebla in San Andrés Cholula, the 17th-century church uniquely fuses European and native designs, a style of architecture known today as indigenous baroque. Inspired by the stunning Capilla del Rosario in the nearby city of Puebla, Tonantzintla’s architects tried to give their church a more local, realistic feel. Tonantzintla is adorned mostly with colorful plaster in place of gilded stucco.

The name Tonantzintla, which means “place of our little mother” in Nahuatl, comes from the Aztec goddess Tonantzin, the earth mother who became the equivalent of the Virgin Mary when the Spaniards conquered the pre-Hispanic world. From the outside, the church doesn’t look like much: Crude figures of St. Peter, St. Paul, and the Virgin Mary greet visitors from their perch atop an austere facade (see photo, at right above). But its magnificence quickly becomes apparent inside. The walls are completely covered with ornate plaster molds and models, which are colorfully painted or coated with gold. It’s an explosion of shapes, symbols, and meanings. And, although the figures and faces are rough, childlike, and less elegant than those typically found in other Baroque churches in México, they are equally breathtaking.

Tonantzintla's walls are covered with plaster molds and models, either colorfully painted or coated with gold.“The church of Santa María Tonantzintla is a required visit for anyone who wants to enjoy a spiritual atmosphere that’s ‘out of this world,’” notes architect Ignacio Cabral in his book, Religious Architecture in San Andrés Cholula, Puebla. “The fruits, flowers, children, faces, masks, birds, figures of saints and more together form an extraordinary mosaic — a frank ‘horror vacui,’ or fear of empty space — that is so typical of the Baroque style and here is interpreted in an indigenous fashion.”

What merits the most attention, Cabral continues, is Tonantzintla’s dome, which is like no other in Mexico. “It’s a ‘celestial vision’ of the indigenous world as they imagined it and captured it with their own hands … a magnificent example of the union of Mexican and European [cultures] and of the syncretism between Christianity and the indigenous worldview.”

The church operates autonomously from the Archdiocese of Puebla and is supported and promoted by the community. Signs in the church forbid tourists from taking any photographs inside, with or without flash, to preserve the paint’s colors (they make exceptions during weddings, which is how we got our shots). Post cards may be purchased at the entrance; the money collected goes toward maintenance efforts.

San Francisco Acatepec offers one of the finest examples of the Baroque talavera style in Mexico.Less than a mile from Tonantzintla, San Francisco Acatepec offers one of the finest examples of viceregal architecture and Baroque talavera in Mexico. Upon arrival at Acatepec, the first thing visitors notice is its beautiful facade, which is entirely covered by locally produced ceramic tiles. The handcrafted pieces are so intricately painted that they appear to change colors with the weather: When the sun shines, the reddish hues catch fire; when it’s cloudy, the cobalt blue tones seem to complement the gray sky. The vivid details and ornamentation are characteristic of Puebla’s trademark pottery, a centuries-old traditional art that continues today. “The magnificence of the façade is such that it looks like a porcelain temple, worth being kept under glass,” renowned Colonial art historian Don Manuel Toussaint once noted.

The church — built during the same era Tonantzintla — is named after its original village, Acatepec, which means “hill of reeds” in Nahuatl, and the patron saint of the new church, St. Francis. Sadly, on December 31, 1939, a fire destroyed its original interior, which featured carved cedar altars and gold-covered stucco details.

Some 15 years before the disaster, an engineer named Alberto Pani made a series of books called Churches of Mexico, which depicted 17th- and 18th-century churches to demonstrate the architectural richness of the country. To present them in the best way possible, he worked with one of the nation’s top photographers, Guillermo Kahlo. (If the last name sounds familiar, it’s because he was Frida’s father. Yes, that Frida!) Based on these pictures, the interior of San Francisco Acatepec was largely reconstructed in 1941, and, although it is nowhere as complete as the original, it’s still stunning — and well worth checking out. —Vica Amuchastegui

Both churches are accessible by taxi and bus, including the Cholula Tranvia, which departs from the zócalo of Puebla at 11 a.m., Tuesday through Sunday. (Adult tickets: 100 pesos.) The churches are open to the public every day from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.

Post updated November 6, 2013.

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