Go for baroque in Mexico
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