|Manuel Felguérez Barra|
December 12, 1928|
Valparaíso, Zacatecas, Mexico
Manuel Felguérez Barra (born December 12, 1928) is a prominent abstract artist of Mexico, part of the Generación de la Ruptura which broke with the muralist movement of Diego Rivera and others in the mid 20th century. Felguérez was born in Zacatecas in 1928, but political instability caused his family to lose their land there and move to Mexico City. In 1947, he had the chance to travel to Europe and impressed with the art there, decided to dedicate himself to the vocation. Unhappy with the education at the Academy of San Carlos in Mexico, he did most of his studies in France, where he specialized in abstract art, something that was not accepted in Mexico at the time. His exhibitions were initially limited to galleries and the production of “sculpted murals” using materials such as scrap metals, stones and sand. As attitudes in Mexico changed towards art, Felguérez found acceptance for his work and remains active at over eighty years of age.
Manuel Felguérez was born on his family’s San Agustín del Vergel hacienda near Valparaíso, Zacatecas in 1928. It was a turbulent time as Zacatecas was involved in the Cristero uprising and while the fighting initially began over religion, it quickly become about land as well. His father owned the family hacienda, the great great grandson of landholders, but by the early 20th century, these landowners were despised by the general populace. Various of the hacienda’s workers demanded control of the land by force, with battles between loyalists and the insurgents on the property. In the 1930s, there were land expropriations under Lázaro Cárdenas, which took away most of the family’s holdings. The family decided to flee and later completely abandon the hacienda in 1934 for Mexico City. Felguérez’s father hoped for compensation for the lost lands from the federal government, but he died after a year when Felguérez was only eight years old. Felguérez’s mother never returned to Zacatecas, warning her son that if he ever returned to Valparaíso, they would kill him, and she also preferred to be with her parents in the capital city. Felguérez would return about six decades later to Zacatecas for the first time to open an art museum named after him.
Felguérez grew up with his mother and her family, which owned the Ideal Theater on Dolores Street in Mexico City. The change from rural farm life to city life was essential to his development. The family had a number of financial downturns, first losing the theatre then losing a grocery store they opened after only two years, making the family poor. There was pressure to join gangs and rob, he liked to box and see lucha libre at the Arena México and tried marijuana in his youth (he favors its legalization today. However, he received his primary, secondary and high school education through the Marists and was a Boy Scout from age eight to age twenty three with his best friend Jorge Ibargüengoitia . The Scouts encouraged him to read authors such as Dostoyevsky and G. K. Chesterton and took hiking trips including one to Iztaccíhuatl .
Scouting also gave him the opportunity to travel to Europe in 1947 just after the end of World War II when the cultural scene was recovering. His intention was to go with Ibargengoitia for a jamboree, but the trip cost 5000 pesos which he could not pay. The two found a way for cheaper passage and got the France on their own, angering the Mexican Scout leadership, who expelled them. They then decided to hitchhike around various countries including Italy, Switzerland, France and England, staying at houses of Scouting contacts and visiting museums. Although his mother wanted him to be a doctor, he was impressed by the European art he saw, especially that of English painter William Turner and announced to Ibargengoitia that he would become an artist. Although Ibargengoitia laughed at the time, he later write that he felt that this is when Felguérez’s vocation began.
He entered the Academy of San Carlos in 1948, but lasted only four months as he did not like its conformity with the dominant artistic movement in Mexico called the Escuela Mexicana de Pintura . He decided to go back to Europe along with his friend Jorge Wilmot. To get the money, they went to the La Huasteca and other areas to find archeological pieces to sell. At that time, there was not the consciousness that they were part of Mexico’s heritage. He studied at the Grande Chaumière Academy in Paris, under French-Russian Cubist artist Ossip Zadkine, who became his mentor.
He returned to Mexico in 1950 for family reasons and between then and 1954, he studied for a bachelors in anthropology and history as well as taking classes in modern art at Mascarones and studying the craft of terracotta at La Esmeralda with Francisco Zúñiga. He met his first wife, Ruth Rohde in 1951. Their families would not let them marry so they eloped. Later to appease the families, they married again in the Catholic Church. He tried to sell sculptures made in his workshop, without success, but did make some money making designing lamps for Enrique Anhalt. He and his first wife moved to Puerto Escondido and had a store selling handcrafts .
He returned to France which his wife and daughter, with a large studio in the Casa de Mexico, where he met Lilia Carrillo, who was then married to Ricardo Guerra. He divorced his first wife in 1959, with two children and soon afterwards married Carrillo. They remained married until Carrillo died in 1974, five years after a ruptured aneurism in her back left her paralyzed. He married his current wife Mercedes Oteyza shortly after that.
Over his lifetime he has done a variety of work in addition to art, sometimes out of necessity. It includes taxidermist, anthropologist, artisan, researcher and teacher. He was a university professor, retiring after thirty years, and never depended in art sales to live. As a teacher, his most important focus is to teach students to be original. He states that it is hard for him to sell his work and sometimes large quantities of pieces can accumulate without sale.
The artist is still activity working, and has no plans to retire except in the case of physical disability. He has homes in Colorado and the Olivar de los Padres neighborhood of Mexico City, as well as a workshop at the Abstract Art Museum in Zacatecas.
His career has included painting, planning sculptures, thirty years as a professor, work in theatre and cinema and handcraft design. He has had over 250 individual exhibitions and over 1,500 with other artists. He feels his most significant work has been his sculpted murals and public sculptures. He is classified as a member of the Generación de la Ruptura along with Vicente Rojo Almazán, Rodolfo Nieto, José Luis Cuevas, Alberto Gironella, Myra Landau, Lilia Carrillo, Francisco Corzas, Fernando García Ponce and Arnaldo Coen, following the more abstract style pioneered by Carlos Mérida, Cordelia Urueta, Günther Gerzso and Juan Soriano. As a member of the group he faced both political and artistic stigma. He is also associated with other writers and artists of his generation including Juan Rulfo, Octavio Paz, Juan Jose Gurrola, Alejandro Jodorowski, Alejandro Galindo and Alberto Isaac .
He works in both painting and sculpture, specializing in combining sculpture as mural, creating sculpted murals in metal for public and private buildings. Most of these were done early in his career which thirty relief murals using materials such as scrap metal, stones, sand and shells finished by the end of the 1960s. Some of the more important works of this type are at the Diana Theater and the Bahía water park. The “Mural de chatarra” (Mural of junk) was made for the Diana Cinema and was considered by the press to be a provocation as it did not refer to the Mexican Revolution and the people of Mexico. A later work was the tzompantli-mural for the Museo Nacional de Antropología .
In the late 1950s and during the 1960s, abstract art was not accepted by Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes y Literatura and Felguérez was mostly limited to exhibiting in galleries. His art was supported by artists such as Jomi, Juan Martin and Juan Garcia Ponce and heavily criticized by Raquel Tibol, Jorge González Camarena and Juan O’Gorman. He supported the Cuban Revolution in 1960, which hurt his career in the United States as his visa was canceled for being a “communist.” He was able to visit Cornell University in 1966 but only under special invitation and similarly when he received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1975.
His first exhibition was in 1954 at the Insituto Francés de América Latina, where he was favorably received by Justino Fernández, Paul Westheim and Mathias Goeritz. It was the only exhibition where he has sold all of his displayed works and earned him a scholarship to return to France. His first individual exhibition was in 1958.
Since then, major exhibitions include the I and II Biennials in Paris, the VI in São Paulo, the IV in Tokyo and the XX Biennial in Watercolors at the Brooklyn Museum, the I Bienal de escultura in Mexico City (1962), Confrontación 66, Palacio de Bellas Artes, Mexico City (1966), Mexico Today at the Mexican Museum in San Francisco (1978), México ayer y hoy at the Petit Palais in Paris (1981), Libro objeto at the Galería Juan Martín in Mexico City (1982), Obra reciente at the Galería Arte Actual Mexicano in Monterrery (1984), Confrontación 86 at the Palacio de Bellas Artes (1986), and at the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Monterrey (1997) .
Felguérez’s works are still shown actively, and murals are still created by the artist. In 2009 was the exhibition Manuel Felguérez, Invención Constructiva at the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City which was inaugurated by President Felipe Calderón . For the Bicentennial of Mexico’s Independence, Felguérez’s mural “Ecuación en Acero” (Equation in Steel) was inaugurated by the same president at the Secretariat of Public Education . In 2011, 'Manuel Felguérez: Gráfica y Escultura' exhibited at the Centro Nacional de las Artes (Cenart) . To commemorate the 40th anniversary of Mexico-China relations in 2012, the Mexican government sponsored the exhibition “Manuel Felguérez: Obre reciente” in Beijing, China. In the same year, Estética de lo real: Caos y orden de la obra de Manuel Felguérez" was presented at the Museo de Aguascalientes . There is also a hotel/museum/boutique called The Sebastian in Vail, which features original works by Felguérez. The enterprise’s house wine label features a design by the artist.
At over eighty years of age, he still spends eight hours a day experimenting and working on his art as well as traveling for exhibitions. He has used computers to program designs, experimenting with it as a new medium.
The formation of Felguérez’s style and imagery is closely tied to the various movements of Europe such as incorporate geometric-constructivist, informalism and abstract expressionism which he was exposed to in his early training. He has melded these elements into his own style. He work often contains basic geometric figures such as circles, triangles, rectangles and squares, in combinations to form his own “language.” His work has been compared to Picasso and Rufino Tamayo by art experts such as Teresa del Conde . He claims many influences but does not follow any one specifically. He regularly visits art museums to look for inspiration.
His creations never reference death because to him art is life. He does not believe that art is necessarily for catharsis and his emotions are not reflected in his work. His focus is on aesthetics, painting more with the head then the hands. Felguérez describes himself as a “producer and seller of aesthetic pleasure.”
He characterizes himself as a person of constant experimentation, as he believe constant evolution distinguishes the artist from the artisan, who repeats styles and forms. He is against the “Neo-nationalism” movement in Mexican art as he does not like “neo” anything, since it means repeating something that has been done before. However, changes in his work are gradual, rather than leaps from one style to another. During the mid 1970's his work involves the use of computing processes, the subject continues to be geometrical shapes. The idea of the use of computers evolved from the repetition of forms, those findings were published by Felguerez in his book "El espacio multiple" (The Multiple Space)  In 1975 after obtaining and scholarship from the Guggenheim Foundation that allowed him a research in Harvard University, he started experimenting with computers aided by the computer science engineer Mayer Sasson whith whom he published the book "La Máquina Estética" (The Aesthetic Machine). Felguérez is considered a pioneer of the digital art in Mexico. His emphasis on the new as well as his negative experience with establishment artists of the 1940s have caused him to state emphatically that he does not want to create another school of art in Mexico.
In 1973 he was made a member of the Academia de Arte Mexicana. In 1975 he was granted a Guggenheim fellowship and received the Gran Premio de Honor of the XIII Bienal de São Paulo, Brazil. In 1988 he received the Premio Nacional de Arte. In 1987, he was named an “illustrious citizen” by the state of Zacatecas. In 1988, he received the Premio Nacional de Artes.In 1993, he was designated a Creator Emeritus by presidential decree.}
Manuel Felguérez Abstract Art Museum
The Manuel Felguérez Abstract Art Museum was opened in 1998 in the city of Zacatecas. It is housed in a 19th-century Neoclassical building which used to be a seminary and later a jail. The permanent collection contains about 100 works by the artists that represent his development over his long career as well as over 110 pieces by Mexican and international abstract artists. The initial donation was from Felguérez’s own private collection and given to the museum on the condition that it would be dedicated to the abstract art of his generation and those after.
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