How the institutions can endanger an artwork and to what extent…
The purpose of this is not to point fingers for the mere purpose of doing so; but rather to use this experience as an example of how an institution can endanger an artwork and to what extent.
It had been a really nice breakfast. Two scones each, black coffee on a wooden table. We had planned it all the day before: breakfast in the morning and Polyforum Siqueiros would follow.
We checked the opening time, 10:00 am to 7:00 pm, and the possible events that would take place the day we were going; the calendar had absolutely no events. We got there at about 10:40 am.
The exterior of the Polyforum Siqueiros consists of twelve panels that depict symbolisms related to the interior mural titled “La Marcha de la Humanidad.” The exterior panels illustrate many aspects of the social reality that is still present in Mexican politics. After walking around the exterior panels of the Polyforum we decided we were ready to go inside to see the largest mural ever made by Siqueiros. Get your money out and your student ID ready. We were already walking through the door.
But one of the security guards stopped us. “There is a private event and you can’t come in. Please return in two hours,” he said; and we argued. We tried with another guard at the main entrance and he said it was a three-hour wait. We argued a little more and went to get some tea to the café right next to the Polyforum while we waited for three hours. We got increasingly angry and frustrated as time went by. When the time finally elapsed, we went to the main entrance again and the Guard said we had to wait an additional hour because, although the event was over, they had to dismount the items that were used.
We were a ticking time bomb.
How is it possible that the Museum of the Polyforum Siqueiros does not have an updated website where hours and events are specified?
“La Marcha de la Humanidad” is a very important sight to see in Mexico City. Tourists from all over the world come to see this mural and the fact that the events that take place at the Polyforum Siqueiros are not outlined shows how little the institution cares for its visitors. Seriously, how much time are you going to make me waste? Four hours in my case. We were let in at 3:00 pm. The Polyforum Siqueiros should have been opened at 10:00 am and yet it was opened to the public five hours later. Manuel Suárez, the man who commissioned this work had the idea that the Polyforum Siqueiros would become an important cultural site that would promote tourism and thus stimulate the Mexican economy. I can see his ghost frowning.
The cultural and artistic importance of this mural is dismissed and overlooked to allow the Polyforum Siqueiros to become first and most importantly a venue for social events.
The mural “La Marcha de la Humanidad” features a great deal of political heat, philosophical allusions and references the to social and political reality of Mexico at the time and throughout history. Siqueiros described his mural as “an unending struggle to solve the basic problem of existence” to show the complexity of the themes he was exploring. Including the exterior panels, the mural measures 8,700 square meters, making it Siqueiros’ largest mural and one of the largest murals of Latin America. Thus, the success of this mural and its importance cannot be taken lightly and cannot be thought of as decoration for a space.
In the Polyforum Siqueiros’ website it says that it is a space where activities that posses a cultural character take place. But when I clicked on the “Events” section, it listed the type of events they host which include weddings, dinners and dances, cocktails and product launchings. I fail to recognize the cultural character in these events.
The very institution in charge of the preservation of this mural ignores the intention of the artist and the objective of Muralism itself to benefit from an outside profit.
David Alfaro Siqueiros was a painter who insisted on Communist standpoints and favored the stimulation of the working class. Muralism follows this same principle; the shift from the canvas to the wall was meant to increase the accessibility of artworks and thus appeal to a larger demographic. By this, the artworks could be experienced by larger segments of the population and were not limited to the bourgeoisie. Muralism wanted to be for the people.
The current institution that handles this mural by Siqueiros privileges the people who can afford to use the space as a venue for a social event and excludes the viewers when potential for a larger profit exists. Although the space was originally thought to host cultural conventions, I would hate to imagine the face of the artist if he saw that the space of his mural is being rented to host lounge chairs or a dance floor for drunk people to bust some dance moves.
The preservation of this type of artwork must be very expensive and I can understand why external profit would be necessary. Tickets to enter the museum feed into this purpose. Maybe the capital invested in the museum is significantly larger than the incoming flow. This may all be true and it is a problematic condition. One may argue that when investing, one should profit from those investments, especially in the compromised economy of these days.
But I think that institutions should have a moral responsibility in regard to artworks, and to a larger extent when they are as important as this one. They cannot overlook that an artwork is first and most importantly an artwork. The artistic and cultural are dismissed or used as an excuse to suck all the profit an artwork can bring and that is very dangerous for the work. I do not undermine institutions because their investments solidify and prolong the existence of artworks; but because they are necessary, it is very easy for artworks to end up in the wrong hands and thus get polluted by personal interest.
Artworks rely on institutions and that dependence is alarming because for them to endure as artworks, the institution has to have the pure objective of preserving and serving the artwork. And because that involves large sums of money, it is very hard to maintain that pure and uninterested mission. That means artworks will continue to get polluted and will suffer, because if they don’t, the investor might.
Written by Nicole Chaput