At the National Museum of Anthropology


In Mexico and San Francisco exhibition
 
 
The Mural Maps will remain until September 20th, 2007; the rest of the exhibition, until the 30th.
 
An artist of great sensitivity, Miguel Covarrubias (1904-1957), was also a highly creative painter. The National Institute of History and Anthropology, INAH, honors him with an exhibition of some of his greatest works, such as the Mural Maps, painted for the Golden Gate International Exposition in San Francisco, 1939.
 
El Chamaco, or the boy, as he was known, due to his ironic and childish conception of art, was a great humanist and a modern artist. He showed great knowledge and inspiried enthusiasm among those who knew him.  These qualities led him to be one of the most important 20th Century modern artists.
 
Each work relates to his greatest passions, as were women, ballet, oriental art and Prehispanic cultures. He did mural and easel painting, sketches, and illustrations for diaries and magazines, such as El Universal of Mexico, and Life, Vanity Fair and Vogue American magazines.
 
Miguel Covarrubias improved the caricature art by adding his ironic vision of the Mexican politics. Some of his most outstanding colleagues were Abel Quezada an Ernesto El Chango García Cabral. Three of them represent the highlights of this modern expression, setting the bases to the Mexican cartoonist school known as Moneros.
 
El Chamaco conformed a collection of Prehispanic art, shot films, and wrote classic Mexican culture books, such as the ones related to Bali Island,  Olmeca and Mezcala cultures, and The Eagle, the Jaguar and the Serpent, about Precolumbian art.
He wrote about the African American culture of Mexico, and illustrated the Bernal Díaz del Castillo Chronicles, among other works that enrich the national culture.
 
One of his greatest contributions was promoting the knowledge of Mexico’s ancient cultures, as he wrote in a paper about the Itsmo de Tehuantepec: “our knowledge about Mexican cultures, both ancient and present, plus the modern values of art, have led us to better understanding the art that until now, had been underestimated”.
 
Miguel Covarrubias was one of the first collectors of Prehispanic Art. He selected and kept some of the objects that later became famous, after donating them later to the people of Mexico. These pieces, of great historical relevance, are in custody of the INAH; some are exhibited at the National Museum of Anthropology’s permanent collection halls.
 
Maya and Zapoteca anthropomorphic figures and vessels; Teotihuacan ceramic statues and urns; Olmeca stone carved and clay sculptures, and Mezcala greenstone carved figures, are some of the objects that once belonged to Covarrubias.
 
The private collection of Covarrubias is exhibited here for the first time: drawings, sketches, oil paintings, objects gathered on his trips, and other items lent by his niece María Elena Rico Covarrubias. The collection, donated to the former National Museum, some decades ago, is now exhibited in the Museum of Anthropology in this new context.
 
The painter was also an excellent anthropologist: this is why the National Museum of Anthropology conceived an exhibition called Miguel Covarrubias in Mexico and San Francisco.
 
This is how the great audiences of Mexico can appreciate five of the six mural maps
 El Chamaco painted, named Pageant of the Pacific. These are the first mapamundi that place the countries of the Pacific Rim as the center of the world, other than Europe.
 
The people, the fauna and flora, the economy, the native dwelling, the means of transportation and the art of America, Asia and Oceania, are the themes of the mural paintings. He had the advisory of anthropologists and geographers of the University of California.
 
The anthropological content, and the witty vision of El Chamaco Covarrubias, make this work a ludic, remarkable one, that gets us to know his childish approach to art.
 
Miguel Covarrubias drew a fat Wall Street millionaire as a representative New Yorker, and an actress with sunglasses in California. He put a gaucho in Argentina, although not all Argentineans belong to this group.
 
Even helped by Antonio Ruíz El Corcito, Covarrubias needed more than four months of work to finish the six mural panels. He began in October 1938, and got them done shortly before the opening of the Golden Gate International Exposition, in January 1939. The National Museum of Anthropology exhibition includes five of the six mural mapamundi, painted over dozens of medium-sized portable panels.
 
After the Golden Gate International Exposition in San Francisco, the mural maps were exhibited several years at the New York Museum of Natural History. In 1958, during the wrapping-up of the panels before their return to San Francisco, the Art Manifestations mural map got lost. A lithographic reproduction is all that is left of this mapamundi.
 
Personal belongings, such as photographs and documents, illustrate the romantic and everyday life of José Miguel Francisco Covarrubias Duclaud, known as Miguel Covarrubias. His baptism Certificate, dated on November 30th, 1904, notes that he was born in November 22th of the same year. He did his first holy communion at San Pedro Chapel, on August 2nd, 1912.
 
Other objects that once belonged to the artist are Balinese horoscope and wooden-puppets, bought on his honeymoon, after wedding Rosa Rolando in 1930, as well as
telegrams, letters, and a photograph of his friend Diego Rivera painting a mural in San Francisco, between 1930 and 1940.
 
“The idea of the first part of the exhibition is to show the visitors that Miguel Covarrubias was an artist of many facets, a highly creative man, with a great sensitivity, as well as an outstanding human being. With this in mind, people can go ahead and enjoy the murals,” notes, in interview, archaeologist Felipe Solís, the National Museum of Anthropology director, and curator of the exposition.
 
The mural maps are the highlighted works of the Miguel Covarrubias in Mexico and San Francisco exhibition. They will remain at the Museum of Anthropology until September 15th 2007, while the rest of the objects will be here until September 30th.
 
Archaeologist Felipe Solís talks about the importance of Miguel Covarrubias as an archaeologist: “He improved the knowledge of Prehispanic art, and developed the Mexican museology. He is a cornerstone of our profession”.
 
Murals maps
 
The main concept of the murals was innovative: a different genealogy for many civilizations and cultures that share their coastline with the Pacific Ocean.
 
The art work’s purpose was to put the city of San Francisco back in the world map again, rising from the ashes left by the fires that followed the earthquake of 1906.
 
In 1937, when Miguel Covarrubias began to paint the maps, existed a general idea that the Pacific Ocean countries were the engines of the new economic development in the West Coast; this concept is fundamental in the mapamundi paintings.
 
This is where the major contribution of this work lies: both in the archaeological and ethnological exhaustive research, and in the artistic contribution of a tidy acrylic technique. His witty vision of the world, plus the artistry of the work, found recognition in San Francisco, New York and Mexico, and became famous worldwide.
 
This is not the first time that the mural maps visit Mexico: Alfonso de María y Campos, then Consul of Mexico in San Francisco, California, managed, by diplomatic means, that this relevant paintings, of such artistic and educational value, could be known and enjoyed by the people that Covarrubias loved.
 
This time, the visit was made possible by the arrangements of María Teresa Franco, the National Institute of Fine Arts general director. Some of the generous supporters of the visit are Phillip Hudner, and the Charles D. & Frances K. Field Fund. They financed the restoration of the painting, made by INBA specialists, the insurance and transportation of the portable mural to Mexico.
 
The American businessman who contributed with the freight, born in a farm 100 miles away from San Francisco, recalled that the Golden Gate International Exposition took place in his youth, and that “it was the event of our lifetimes; and my exhibition ‘s favorite were the Covarrubias’ paintings”.
 
With the arrival of World War 2, “I thought I would never see the paintings again, but thanks to the Covarrubias team, here we are, 67 years later. I hope the Mural Maps remain being a symbol of fraternity between Mexico and the United States”, quotes the donator.
 
Other people who worked hard to make this possible are Felipe Solís, the Museum of Anthropology director; Patricia Real, MNA Museological Production director; Peter Summerville, of the Treasure Island Development Authority; María Elena Rico Covarrubias, niece of the artist; Erika Keil de González; Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco; National Museum of Cultures; Rocío Sagaón and Adriana Williams.
 
A magnificent scenario for the mural paintings is the National Museum of Anthropology. In the Culturas de Mexico temporary exhibitions hall, the museology was conceived to give prominence to the blue color of the murals, featuring dark walls and an excellent lightning design.
 
The Los Pueblos mural map represents the mixture of the people of different regions. The three major groups that Anthropology set, based in the color of the skin, as well as the blends resulting of outbreeding. The painting suggests that the Polynesian and Micronesian peoples physical characteristics came up from this blends.
 
The La Vivienda Nativa painting shows the hundreds of forms that homes have all along the coastline of the Pacific Ocean. Some of them are built with sticks and animal skins, as in Patagonia; others with piled logs, like those in Tierra del Fuego; the Australian native dwellings, made of leaves and tree barks are represented here, and so are the hamacas, or cots, from Brazilian coastline.  
 
In the Flora y Fauna mural, the climatic regions of the Pacific Bin, produced by the latitude and heat exchange from ocean currents,  the mountain barriers, the high and low pressure zones, the air currents and the altitude, are pointed out as relevant factors of the habitat characteristics, and of the evolution of the species.
 
The La Economía mural map represents the geographic and human that led to the economic and social structures of the Pacific Bin. The satisfaction of the basic needs, and the trade of goods as a consequence, created different economic activities, like animal breeding, agriculture, and industry.
 
In Los Medios de Transporte, the main subjects are the ways used to transport goods and people in the Pacific Bin. The means invented to sail rivers, lakes, and oceans, and cross through deserts, forests, jungles and mountains, are represented in this mural painting.
 
The last mural map, the lost one, is Las Manifestaciones del Arte. The artistic expressions of the people all along the Pacific Bin are represented here. We can enjoy the lithography that remains.
 
Miguel Covarrubias in Mexico and San Francisco, can be visited in the temporary exhibitions hall of the National Museum of Anthropology, until September 15th. The five original mural maps, and the lithographic reproduction, will then go to Monterrey, Nuevo León, to be part of the exhibition América Migración, at the Universal Forum of Cultures. The rest of the pieces will be exhibited until September 30th, 2007.
 
You are welcome to the National Museum of Anthropology, at Paseo de la Reforma Ave. and Gandhi St., in the 1st Section of Chapultepec Park. The visiting hours are Tuesday to Sunday, from 9:00 AM to 7:00 PM.  The admission fee is 45 MXP. For further information dial (55) 5553 6381 or (55) 5553 6383.