Go for baroque in Mex­ico

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - TRAVEL & INDULGENCE - IN­GRID PIPER

A pool of still wa­ter mir­rors the bril­liant white fluted folds of Museo In­ter­na­cional del Bar­roco (In­ter­na­tional Mu­seum of the Baroque) as it rises serenely out of the flat Pue­bla desert land­scape into a cloud­less blue sky.

Mex­ico’s new­est mu­seum must surely be one of the world’s most beau­ti­ful art in­sti­tu­tions. De­signed by Pritzker Prize-win­ning Ja­panese ar­chi­tect Toyo Ito, it blends a Zen-like de­sign aes­thetic with el­e­ments of indige­nous Me­soamer­i­can be­liefs. Ito’s cre­ation springs from the sim­ple idea to take four walls of a box and, in­stead of each wall meet­ing, let them curve gen­tly around each other like folds of cloth.

En­cir­cled by a re­flect­ing pool of wa­ter mir­ror­ing the cloud­less sky and walls, a float­ing walk­way con­nects Bar­roco to the world. Step­ping into the cav­ernous atrium is an as­ton­ish­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. Nat­u­ral light floods the mul­ti­storeyed white space dom­i­nated by an im­pres­sive curved stair­case that curls gen­tly up­wards.

Be­neath it, sev­eral visi­tors lounge on a large un­du­lat­ing struc­ture cov­ered with a blush green fab­ric wo­ven by lo­cal ar­ti­sans. Be­hind them, a sin­gle large win­dow frames the mu­seum’s cen­tre­piece, a spec­tac­u­lar court­yard dom­i­nated by a sparkling blue whirlpool; it’s a foun­tain in re­verse, where swirling wa­ter is drawn down­wards. This dra­matic fea­ture also re­flects Me­soamer­i­can tra­di­tion since the indige­nous word to de­scribe green and blue has the same mean­ing — life.

Light re­flected from the soar­ing folds of the white walls is so in­tense that the court­yard’s som­bre black-clad at­ten­dants wear sun­glasses; even Pablo Frankel, Di­rec­tor of Exhibitions, car­ries a pair tucked into his top pocket as he moves about the airy build­ing.

More than 400,000 visi­tors passed through the Bar­roco in its first year, help­ing re-es­tab­lish Pue­bla City as Mex­ico’s strong­hold of baroque. The city was the com­mer­cial cap­i­tal of the Span­ish viceroy from 1521-1810 and the his­toric town cen­tre still re­tains the ar­chi­tec­ture and feel of an Ibe­rian town.

“Our chal­lenge now is how do we stay rel­e­vant and how can we go fur­ther with each show that we do. How can we trans­mit to the na­tion that we are the new cen­tury for baroque. Mex­ico was never a colony, it was al­ways a vice-roy­alty and part of the king­dom of Spain, shar­ing lit­er­a­ture, mu­sic and cul­ture but it doesn’t get taught. As museums, we are re­spon­si­ble for trans­mit­ting that knowl­edge,” Frankel says.

Ground-floor per­ma­nent ex­hi­bi­tion ar­eas fo­cus on the­atre, mu­sic, ar­chi­tec­ture, sci­ence, paint­ing, sculp­ture and con­nec­tions with Europe. The space cre­ated by Ito’s folded rooms is enor­mous and in one sec­tion sev­eral ceil­ing fres­cos from Europe are on dis­play.

Visi­tors are en­cour­aged to ex­plore deeper at in­ter­ac­tive sta­tions, to swipe touch-screens at ir­re­sistibly user­friendly gi­ant iPads. Au­dio and guided tours are also avail­able.

The mu­seum part­ners with na­tional and in­ter­na­tional gal­leries to cu­rate block­buster exhibitions. Its cur­rent fea­ture, Clay Be­tween Two Seas — From Bagh­dad to the Talav­era of Pue­bla, which runs to July 30, is a col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween Mex­ico’s Museo Franz Mayer and the Crow Col­lec­tion of Asian Art, in Dal­las, Texas, show­cas­ing Is­lam’s in­flu­ence on Span­ish ce­ram­ics and its con­nec­tion with Pue­bla’s pot­tery that dates from about 500AD.

Later this year, New Zealand’s ex­u­ber­ant World of Wear­able Art goes on dis­play, a per­fect ex­am­ple of 21stcen­tury New World art cel­e­brat­ing the beauty, ad­ven­ture and spirit of baroque.

When sen­sory over­load hits or your feet give out, head up the stair­case to the mu­seum’s cafe and res­tau­rant, where I sug­gest order­ing a choco­late brownie with cof­fee. The din­ner plate-sized bis­cuit is re­mark­ably over the top and def­i­nitely in keep­ing with the mu­seum’s baroque con­ceit.

Mex­ico’s Museo In­ter­na­cional del Bar­roco

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