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During its pandemic pause, closed to the public and without regular programming, the Mexican Cultural Institute (MCI) unearthed a lost treasure.
A massive sculptural mural by modernist artist Manuel Felguérez had been covered over by a new wall within the last 10 years to allow for the installation of an architecture exhibition. After Felguérez died in June from COVID-19, “wanting to pay homage to the artist we took down the wall that hid it,” said Valeria Mata, a spokeswoman for the Consulate General of México in San Antonio.
Now, Mata said, the mural can be “shown to our community as a symbol of the longstanding friendship between Mexico and San Antonio.”
Titled El Telón de la Paz, the 12-foot-by-24-foot, 2-foot deep metal sculpture was completed in 1965 for the entrance of the Teatro Casa de la Paz in Mexico City. Over time, its undulating copper forms appear to have darkened to a rich brown patina set off by hundreds of brightly shining brass shapes.
During an unveiling of the mural last week for members of the media attended by dignitaries and representatives of the consulate, the City’s Department of Arts and Culture, and the San Antonio-Mexico Friendship Council, Enrique Márquez, executive director of cultural diplomacy at the Mexican Ministry of Foreign Affairs, joined via videoconference.
Márquez explained that “it is a well-known fact that Felguérez was the only nonfigurative painter in Mexico who ventured into muralism,” and the artist was known for pioneering the Generación de la Ruptura, a group of artists who sought to move Mexican art beyond the socially oriented Mexican muralists phase, which had been dominated by Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, and David Alfaro Siqueiros, into a modernist era.
Sculptor Sebastián was the youngest member of the group, he said while visiting for the dedication of his new public sculpture Star of Texas at the San Antonio International Airport.
Sebastián called Felguérez “a very good friend” and said that his colleague began as an abstract expressionist painter alongside Felguérez’s artist wife, Lilia Carrillo. The work of the husband and wife were often indistinguishable from each other, Sebastián said.
After Carrillo’s death, Felguérez moved into the geometric phase for which he became known and pioneered digital art at a time in Mexico when the technology was still new.
The story of how the mural, at one time apparently titled Laberintos (Mazes), made its way to San Antonio is perhaps lost to time, but it most likely had to do with the arrival of HemisFair ’68, the 1968 world’s fair that gave downtown San Antonio some of its most important landmarks.
MCI security guard Vincent Beaudoin remembers seeing the mural in its original spot at the institute during a 1980 Saturday field trip with fellow students of Madison High School. Back then it was installed on the large back wall of what was then an auditorium, and the mural served as the backdrop for a multimedia performance for the students.
Beaudoin was in a woodworking and metalsmithing class at the time and said he could clearly recognize how much time, care, and feeling the artist had put into his work. Seeing it 41 years later, “I’m still amazed,” Beaudoin said.
In a 2000 scholarly essay, noted Mexican architect Manuel Larrosa said the mural had once been used as a backdrop for a performance by filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky.
Lamenting losses of the Teatro Casa de la Paz’s cultural heritage over time, Larrosa described the Felguérez mural as essentially a lost treasure and attributed its disappearance as “one day traveling on loan to some university in the United States … and has not yet returned; requests in this regard have not been lacking.”
In his essay, Larossa called for the return of the mural to its original place and described “the need to repatriate this jewel of kinetic moralism, with which our muralism took a qualitative leap.”
The MCI made no announcement regarding the return of the Felguérez mural, which will remain in place for the foreseeable future. El Telón de la Paz can be viewed during business hours by contacting the MCI by phone at 210-227-0123 or by sending an email to email@example.com.