The Contentious Historical past of a Misplaced Cave Home in Mexico Metropolis

“Crucial architectural work of my life”: That’s how Juan O’Gorman, legendary architect of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera’s studios and Mexico’s mural-wrapped Central Library, remembered the house he in-built 1954 on a pure lava cave within the Mexico Metropolis neighborhood of El Pedregal. Final month, the one present scale mannequin of O’Gorman’s mystical “Casa Cueva” landed improbably in New York’s Noguchi Museum, together with three extra takes on cavernous habitation by Mathias Goeritz, Carlos Lazo, and Javier Senosiain.

The mannequin of O’Gorman’s home is important as a result of Casa Cueva not exists. Its destruction greater than 5 a long time in the past — and the bitter discourse that it engendered — pitted two nice artists towards one another in what stays one of the divisive episodes within the current historical past of Mexican artwork.

With its kaleidoscopic, Gaudí-esque mosaics and overflowing gardens, Casa Cueva has lengthy been a topic of fascination and myth-making in Mexico. Elsewhere, O’Gorman’s fantastical dwelling has largely remained a distinct segment curiosity, the province of specialised blogs and skilled scholarship. Its relative obscurity is due at the very least partially to a dearth of documentation: The home was acquired and reworked in 1969 by Helen Escobedo, artist and and longtime director of the Nationwide Autonomous College of Mexico’s (UNAM) High quality Artwork Division, and for many years, solely a scattering of images testified to its grandeur. That modified with the current arrival of the whole maquette, first proven final yr at INBA’s Museo Nacional de Arquitectura and now as a part of the exhibition In Reward of Caves. There, it’s staged amid works by artist Isamu Noguchi, who didn’t himself dabble within the home adaptation of caves however whose sunken gardens and biomorphic sculptures are chic tributes to the countless formal prospects of topography.

Mannequin of the O’Gorman Cave Home by Senosiain Arquitectos on show on the Noguchi Museum (photographs by Nicholas Knight © The Noguchi Museum/ARS)

Lately, noble makes an attempt to protect the reminiscence of O’Gorman’s cave home have additionally dredged up the controversy round its disappearance. In 1969, O’Gorman offered the property to Escobedo on the premise — in accordance with his account — of her verbal promise to protect it. She proceeded to demolish elements of the home and remodel others past recognition, with little resistance from the cultural group. Solely Ida Prampolini, spouse of artist Mathias Goeritz, was vocal about her criticism, publishing a scathing essay in protest. “Aren’t museum administrators accountable for preserving artwork?” she wrote of Escobedo, who was then on the helm of the Museo Universitario de Ciencias y Arte. “If it’s true that Mrs. Escobedo desires to assemble her personal ‘sculptural home,’ couldn’t she purchase a unique plot of land, or a home that’s not of creative worth?”

“What motives may have led her to buy a murals to then destroy it?” Prampolini continued.

Esther McCoy’s article in a 1970 subject of Progressive Article (through US Modernist)

All through her lifetime, Escobedo, who died in 2010, insisted that she had at all times been clear about her intentions; that she by no means pledged to protect the home, and that she the truth is conveyed from her earliest conversations with the architect her plans to raze it and substitute it together with her very personal “Casa Pueblo” (a venture O’Gorman later derided as “widespread” and “vulgar.”) In a brief article for a 1970 subject of Progressive Structure by architectural historian Esther McCoy, Escobedo is quoted as saying that the cave was “uninhabitable, significantly in occasions of rain.” O’Gorman, on his finish, was desirous to promote: as his daughter’s well being declined, he and his spouse sought drier circumstances than a house fabricated from stone may present.

Nonetheless, O’Gorman maintained that Escobedo reneged on a promise, an accusation all of the extra damning due to what the home symbolized. For O’Gorman, whose buildings had lengthy revered the utilitarian, modular, and stripped-down philosophy of Functionalism, Casa Cueva — his final architectural venture, which he designed with out blueprints by tracing the pure curves of the lava cave — marked his definitive passage to Natural structure. With its coloured stone mosaics of Indigenous motifs embedded within the basaltic flows left by the eruption of the Xitle voclano over 1,600 years in the past, Casa Cueva embraced regionalism and storytelling, an method starkly completely different from that of the summary, monumental sculpture artists like Escobedo had been starting to pursue on the time. O’Gorman’s visible language was particular, native, legible to the Mexican group; Escobedo’s was broad, sweeping, and common.

Helen Escobedo, “Coatl” (1980) at UNAM’s Espacio Escultorico in Mexico Metropolis (photograph Valentina Di Liscia/Hyperallergic)

Certainly, Escobedo — then 35 years outdated — inherited the dissident legacy of the so-called “generación de la ruptura,” a gaggle of artists in mid-Twentieth century Mexico who reacted towards the dominant artwork types of previous a long time, significantly muralismo and the Mexican Faculty of Portray. In majestic public artworks corresponding to “Coatl” (1980), Escobedo additionally invoked panorama and locality, however did so with a distinctly non-objective vocabulary (“God forbid we should always have any extra portray with ‘messages’ and ‘figurative artwork,’” she reportedly informed an interviewer on one event.) As a museum skilled, Escobedo dropped at Mexico the work of artists like Julio Le Parc and Arshile Gorky. In the meantime, Prampolini wrote, O’Gorman’s Casa Cueva was “the antithesis of the so-called ‘worldwide fashion.’” O’Gorman himself, in a textual content decrying that extra folks didn’t converse up when the home was razed, evoked a inflexible dichotomy: “Unarguably, in Mexico there’s a distinction of opinions which I’ve already referred to in relation to the 2 currents of artwork that exist and prevail: one which corresponds to Mexico, its folks, its custom, its geography, and its historical past; the opposite is a present of artwork imported to our nation.”

Helen Escobedo at her Casa Pueblo (photograph courtesy Fondo Artístico Helen Escobedo)

These deceptively easy binaries — outdated guard versus new; custom versus modernity — gave method to an unrelenting lore that appears to rekindle each few years. In an interview with artist Pedro Reyes, who has been vocal about the home’s destruction, architect Carlos González Lobo claims that he tried to cause with Escobedo on the time however in the end noticed on her half “una voluntad de destruir la obra,” an unyielding will to eradicate O’Gorman’s work. Upfront of a sprawling survey of Escobedo’s profession at MUAC in 2107, native newspaper El Common reported within the tone of a gossip column that its curator had been confronted concerning the disappearance of the O’Gorman home and whether or not it might be excluded from the exhibition, “because it has in current monographs.” As not too long ago as this January, an informative Twitter thread about Casa Cueva posted by Mexico’s Secretary of Tradition that mentions Escobedo’s “modifications” noticed the polemic resurface. “Modified?” one consumer scoffed. “She utterly demolished it.”

An entrance to Casa Cueva displaying certainly one of O’Gorman’s few remaining mosaics, photographed August 2022 (photograph Valentina Di Liscia/Hyperallergic)

Sandra Cerisola, director of the Fondo Artístico Helen Escobedo, laments that Escobedo’s personal creative contributions have been obscured by the controversy.

“Helen Escobedo was a lady who did lots for artwork in Mexico, not simply by her creative apply however as a museum administrator and researcher,” Cerisola mentioned in an interview. “It’s unhappy that her title is now primarily related to the ‘destruction of Casa Cueva,’ which isn’t only a brutal discount of her trajectory and conceals her legacy, however can be unfair as a result of she is being judged after her demise, with out the flexibility to inform her aspect of the story.”

The truth that O’Gorman’s model of the information continues to be prioritized over hers, Cerisola provides, demonstrates that “machismo within the arts continues to be happening actively and on very completely different ranges.”

The home at Avenida San Jerónimo 162, largely unrecognizable, is as we speak occupied by a music conservatory. It’s unclear how a lot of Escobedo’s imaginative and prescient for her personal “Casa Pueblo” stays, both — the elegant white constructions she constructed have since been painted in gaudy coats of violet and orange. Nobody on the music faculty answered a request for remark.

Guests on the Noguchi can sit on Javier Senosain Aguilar and Enrique Cabrera Espinosa’s “La Coata” (2022) (photograph Valentina Di Liscia/Hyperallergic)

Adriana Sandoval, who curated the exhibition in Mexico the place the maquette was first proven, mourns the lack of Casa Cueva whereas acknowledging the “fantasies and false arguments” surrounding the ultimate chapter of its historical past. She focuses somewhat on the opportunity of the house’s restoration — a dream now conceivable because of the existence of the mannequin designed by Senosiain Arquitectos and plans by Iván Arellano, who reconstructed the home for his 2016 PhD dissertation “Casa O’Gorman: Habitando la Cueva.”

“There’s a craving on the a part of the general public — and if I may be extra romantic, a necessity for justice that the general public calls for for its proper to that patrimony that was misplaced,” Sandoval mused.

On the Noguchi, guests pause to take a seat on a mirrored snake sculpture that winds round a pole close to a maquette of “El Nido de Quetzalcóatl,” Javier Senosiain’s “natural structure theme park.” One other sculpture, designed by Mathias Goeritz for the cavernous entrance of his Museo Experimental El Eco, sits throughout from Noguchi’s rock backyard. A mannequin of Carlos Lazo’s “Atomic Age Cave Home,” an unbuilt construction described as a “synthesis of the Flintstones and the Jetsons,” has its personal devoted gallery, as does O’Gorman’s home, which unfurls spectacularly beneath protecting glass. A pamphlet for the exhibition doesn’t delve into the home’s destruction, stating merely that it was “tragically ruined.” As a substitute, the present recaptures the symbolic and literal that means of caves as pure refuges; their potential to attain concord between folks and their environment.

“People, earlier than they’re born, are heat and swaddled within the curved form of the placenta,” says Ricardo Suárez Haro, who organized the exhibition with Noguchi’s senior curator Dakin Hart. “Then, out of the blue, they arrive out into the world and are pressured into squares: A sq. crib, sq. room, a sq. grave. Senosain says that in issues which can be natural, in issues which can be spherical, human beings discover areas of happiness. We’re returning to our origins.”

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