Friday, July 20, 2018

Zacatecas: a place of many questions

Museo Rafael Coronel
Yesterday we went to Museo Rafael Coronel, primarily known for its collection of 10,000 Mexican masks. However, one of the first things that caught our attention was a series of “wizard” sculptures in the gardens. As incredible as the museum is, it is long on displays and short on explanations. It wasn’t until we were ending our time there that we found a signature on one of the sculptures and realized they were the work of Coronel himself. However, there was no information about them anywhere, not even in the tiny gift shop, or, as we would find out later, on the wide world of the internet.

My traveling companion, Bette Brazel, and I spent a lot of time on the internet looking for more about these dark sculptures which seemed to have a strong Asian influence. So, right now, there is a gaping hole in our understanding of who Rafael Coronel was and why he is referred to only as a “painter.” We did find out that he is the son-in-law of Diego Rivera and at 86 years-old is still producing an enormous amount of work while he lives in Cuernavaca. Good thing he doesn’t still live in Zacatecas; we would have been tempted to knock on his door.  Question #1: What’s the deal with Rafael Coronel’s sculptures? This armchair view video gives you a sense of the extensive quality of the museum but does not show the sculptures.

La Leyenda: outside hint of what's inside
After leaving the museum, we had lunch at La Leyenda (the legend), mainly because I had noticed colors and interesting objects on the front of the building. Turns out, if there were an international contest for the restaurant with the most “stuff” per square inch, this one would definitely be in the running and might even be the winner. Some would call it kitch, but we wound up exploring every small room and level of the art and artifacts on the walls, floors, ceilings, tables, and everything in-between.

One tiny space inside La Leyenda
One of the cooks told us that the owner/collector worked as an accountant for many of the big restaurants in the area and that this was his “hobby.” Question #2: Who is this person and what prompts his collection of all things interesting?  
Zacatecas Cathedral

A question that carried over from my first trip here is about the Cathedral. A UN World Heritage Site, the Zacatecas Cathedral (Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption of Zacatecas) is the head temple of the Diocese of Zacatecas, and was elevated to a basilica in 1959 (according to Wikipedia). Considered one of the most beautiful temples in Mexico, it is ultra baroque, a style called “churrigueresco” or sometimes “over the top” for it’s extreme ornamentation in a stunning red-pink, locally quarried stone. For an armchair view, watch this video. At 3:55 in this video, you can see the cross with the crucified Jesus. However, when I visited the cathedral, the cross is bare, something I’ve never seen in any other Catholic Church. Question #3: Why is the cross in this important basilica bare?

Print on the walls of Acrópolis
My first trip here, again with Bette Brazel, started the questions flowing when we happened into a coffee shop named, oddly enough, Acrópolis. The first question, of course, was the name, but the bigger question came from the hundreds of art prints on the walls … from Dalí, Picasso, Joan Miró and an extensive list of artists, known and unknown, international and local. Some internet scouring revealed that the Acrópolis was the first coffee shop in Zacatecas and had been started by a young Syrian, Said Samán Farah, who came to Zacatecas looking for his sister. The unanswered question was about this young Syrian who managed to collect an art collection from so many artists. Question #4: Did all these artists pass through Zacatecas … was it some sort of magnet for the international art crowd? (One of our favorite hangouts here is Mi Dalí Café which reinforces the idea of amazing artists coming and going through this city. So far, however, I haven’t been able to discover the reason for the name.)

Museo Pedro Coronel, photo by Travel by Mexico
The museum that started my questioning process of Zacatecas came when we visited the Museo Pedro Coronel. Not only does the collection include a huge variety of work from artists such as Dalí, Picasso, Miró, Chagall, Braque, Hogarth and Vasarely, it includes collections from pre-Hispanic Mexico, from Egypt, Greece, Italy, Africa, China, Japan, India and Oceania. Walking through these collections, I began to feel like I was walking through the brain of a genius. This occurred again while walking through the museum of his brother, Rafael Coronel. Question #5: Who were these brothers and how did they come to assemble such major collections of the world’s creativity?

Bette and I have already talked about coming back for 2-3 weeks next summer. However, I have to wonder if I will get any of these questions answered or if Zacatecas will just throw more at me. Stay tuned. 
BTW, if any of you know answers to any of these questions, please comment below.

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