A Major Mexico City Attraction that is Almost Invisible
There is a major attraction in Mexico City that is ignored by just about everyone. Very little can be found on the internet; indeed, not much information about it is available anywhere. And yet, it is readily visible for those who have eyes to see or, more relevantly, for those who have the wit to look.
The remarkable sight I am talking about is closely associated with an entity that can hardly be ignored, the Plaza Mexico, more formally, the Plaza De Toros, located in Ciudad de Los Deportes, Benito Juárez in Mexico City. It is said to be the largest building in the world, designed to seat 42,000 people, though it has actually held as many as 50,000. So let me now finally introduce you to my topic.
The building is wholly surrounded by a wall, with marble pedestals spaced irregularly on top of that wall, bringing wall plus pedestals to a height of about four meters above the sidewalk. Placed on these high surfaces are bronze sculptures depicting different vignettes of bullfights. The works are superbly realistic, with fine details that are even discernable from the awkward distance of ground to excessive height. Realistic, yes; but also elegant, exhibiting the kind of flair that bullfight aficionados look for when they attend the actual spectacles inside.
The sculptures are somewhat less than life-size, though it is not easy to judge this from the distance and angle enforced by their placement. There are no repetitions as you circumnavigate the Plaza. Each piece is unique and presents a different glance of actions to be seen in the ring.
Specifically, as you walk along the entire outer wall, you will count 19 different works. Of these, 14 depict both a matador and a bull, 3 portray a matador by himself and 2 sculptures are of a bull alone. In addition, there are works, quite formidable ones, inside the walls, to be seen by those who have bought a ticket and have entered the vast space.
The artist who created these remarkable works came to Mexico in 1939 from Valencia where he was born in 1900. He had fought against Franco and in effect fled after members of his family had been killed. His name: Alfredo Just Gimeno, who subsequently had a most successful career in Mexico, succumbing to cancer in 1966.
There is little doubt that his work at the Plaza De Toros is his magnum opus or, better, they are his magna opera since there are so many of them. They constitute an immense effort of meticulous sculpting, presumably in wax properly supported. The works were then cast in bronze (again, presumably) by means of the ancient “lost wax” technique. I have been unable to find anything about Alfredo Just’s studio and working practices. He must surely have had assistants, but nothing seems to be known about them. Nor is there anywhere a hint about the casting of these works. But just looking at the products requires one to infer that the sculptor had available to him a foundry or foundries in possession of the repertory of techniques and equipment that rivaled those of Italy, where that craft goes back to the Renaissance, indeed to ancient Rome. Moreover, the casting must have been accomplished by craftsmen with the training and high skills required to do the sophisticated work that was accomplished.
I have now described a large series of remarkable works of art that are close to being invisible; I have spoken to Mexican friends who have walked along the Plaza on more than one occasion who did not know that there were there. In effect, these wonderful sculptures are doing nothing for the building nor for the fine art of tauromachia, to use the formal designation for the spectacles that take place inside it. What to do?
A brief examination of the site will convince one that there is no practical way to lower these pieces and bring them into visibility. There is thus no alternative to taking them down from their lofty perch and exhibit them on ground level to what will surely be an enthusiastic public.
Two things must happen when they have been brought within reach: the first is mundane and routine; the second calls for creativity and imagination.
Even though these works have been kept out of harms way—except for unfriendly birds and polluted air—it can be noted from the ground that some are stained and spotted with grime. They need to be cleaned. Happily, as far as one can determine from below, they seem not to have been harmed beyond such surface blemishes. They are not at all old, given the life expectancy of bronze castings; but above all, their height has protected them from mischief perpetrated by man and beast. The city’s climate, moreover, is benign. Cleaning is likely to be enough; deeper—and vastly more expensive—restoration probably won’t be needed.
Now that we have nearly two dozen wonderful sculptures, on a single theme, how should they presented to the public? I’ll propose three possibilities, though I am hopeful that others will put forward more imaginative schemes. The simplest way to go is to put the whole set on the floor of a modest building, well lit, large enough to give the sculptures breathing room and allow the viewers to move around without bumping into the works or each other. For this example or my other two, we are talking about a small museum, with posted visiting hours, with a guard whenever the public is welcome, and an appropriate fee for being permitted inside. And since today there is no museum without a gift shop, good photographs should be taken of the works displayed—to be sold singly, in the form of postcards, or collectively as a small picture book. More elaborate things are possible, such as models, but I leave that to the experts. In any case, over time, fees and sales will compensate the sculptures’ owners for some of the cost of making them available to the public.
A second way in which these works might be exhibited is outdoors, in a sculpture garden. Again, I won’t attempt to prescribe how they might be positioned and how juxtaposed with plantings. Whoever designs this outdoor way of showing those works must be sure to include some housing for the ticket-seller and guard and for the de rigueur gift shop.
Finally, I follow a favorite model: the exhibit of a sizeable number of works by David Smith in a Tower Gallery of the East Wing of Washington’s National Gallery. They were placed irregularly on broad rising steps, with room enough for viewers to walk up and down and around the pieces. The fact that these Smith works related to each other not in two but in three dimensions somehow permitted a greater intimacy between viewers and works of art. The same might be achievable with the scenes from bullfights in bronze.
I hope that this account about how to make almost two dozen wonderful works by Alfredo Just Gimeno available to an admiring public will be a first, if very small, step toward its actually happening.
Go now to the next post
and see some snapshots of the sculpures here discussed
taken with a zoom lens from some distance,
yielding views of these works that are not possible without a camera.