Palacio de Bellas Artes, Ciudad de México

The Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City is a wonderous grand pile of early 20th Century design, with an elaborate exterior of Neo Classical and Art Nouveau architecture, topped with an iron and Marotti crystal dome, creating gallery spaces below naturally illuminated by skylights, a first for its time. 

The Palacio de Bellas Artes was commissioned in 1904 as part of the celebrations of the Independence of Mexico, but wasn’t completed until 1934 due to the building sinking under its vast weight some 4 metres into the soft porous soil of Mexico City. So, by the time the interiors were commissioned, Art Nouveau was out and Art Deco was in. 

And wow, what an interior it is!!! In my opinion an unparalleled example of Art Deco decoration.

The main halls are covered in pink Carrara marble with the vast Marotti glass and iron domes illuminating the halls beneath. Throughout the halls are pre-Hispanic motifs in Art Deco style such as serpent heads, Maya Chaac masks, gorgeous gilded metal screens, enormous pyramidal crystal lamps and soaring towers of illuminated decorated glass. There are vast murals covering the walls by by some of Mexico’s most revered artists such as Rufino Tamayo, Jośe Clemente Orozco, David Alfaro Siquerios, Jorge González Camarena, Robert Montenegto, Manuel Rodríguez Lozano and perhaps most famous of them all, Diego Rivera. 

Unfortunately, we couldn’t access the Bellas Artes Theatre, but if we had we would have seen one of the most remarkable stage curtains anywhere in the world. Stained glass foldable panels created out of nearly 1 million pieces of iridescent coloured glass by Tiffany of New York. The design features the two great volcanoes of Mexico City, Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl. The stage curtain is the only one of its kind and weighs in at 24 tons. 

On the second floor, taking up almost the entire width of the gallery is Diego Rivera’s mural
‘El hombre controlador del universo’ (Man, Controller of the Universe), 1934. The central character is presented with an ethical and ideological decision: he must choose between the threat of capitalism represented by the United States and the promise of socialism represented by the
Soviet Union.

This mural has a controversial history. The original was conceived to adorn the foyer of the Rockefeller Centre in New York City in 1933. It was to be a work of massive political propaganda to enlighten the world. However, Rivera dared to include an image of Lenin, the overtness of which didn’t exactly go down so well with the Rockefellers, who ordered it to be destroyed.

So, the one in the Belles Artes is a copy by Diego Rivera himself, so we get to see his extraordinary vision to this day. 

There was a magnificent exhibition on whilst we were there by Mexican artist Federico Silva
(1923-1997). He was an extraordinary abstract sculptor, painter and muralist, experimenting with the techniques of encaustic, fresco and tempera. Many of his sculptural pieces seem to draw inspiration from pre-Hispanic cultures, whilst his paintings appear to be influenced by many of the Mexican artists of the time, including Diego Rivera. We hadn’t been aware of this artist, so it was a welcome addition to our discovery of this truly wonderous place. 

One Comment Add yours

  1. Bevanlee says:

    I love the Aztec statue that looks like an abstract realisation of PacMan, ready to gobble up anything in his way 😍


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