Mathias Goeritz, German-Mexican (1915 - 1990)

German painter, sculptor and teacher, active in Mexico. He studied philosophy and art history in Berlin at Friedrich-Wilhelms Universität, also attending some courses in fine arts and taking his doctorate in 1940. In 1940 he emigrated to Spanish Morocco, where he worked as a teacher until 1944. He returned to Europe at the end of World War II in 1945, settling in Spain, first in Granada, then in Madrid and finally in Santillana, near Santander. There he devoted himself to painting, meeting avant-garde artists and in 1948 helping to found the Escuela de Altamira, which represented a call to artistic rebellion and propounded absolute creative freedom.

In 1949 Goeritz settled in Mexico and became professor of visual education and drawing at the Escuela de Arquitectura of the Universidad de Guadalajara, on the invitation of the school’s director, Ignacio Díaz Morales (1905–92). He taught in Guadalajara until 1954, his natural restlessness finding an outlet in opening galleries and promoting a series of innovative cultural activities as well as in producing his own work. Of singular importance was his creation of a museum in Mexico City, the Museo Experimental El Eco, which operated from 1951 to 1953 and had both a national and an international impact. A sculpture made by him for the museum, Snake (1953; Mexico City, Mus. A. Mod.), prefigured Minimalism, and the manifesto published on the museum’s inauguration, Arquitectura emocional, had repercussions in the work of architects such as Luis Barragán, who adopted the term to define his own work.

On moving to Mexico City in 1954, Goeritz continued to teach and entered a richly productive period, particularly with his sculpture. He produced a series of Heads made from gourds or cast in bronze, and public sculptures such as The Animal of the Pedregal (1954) for the Jardines del Pedregal de San Angel in Mexico City. He also worked productively in collaboration with a number of architects, especially Barragán, with whom he created a monumental sculpture, The Towers of Satélite, for the Ciudad Satélite in Mexico state in 1957. During the same period he produced a series of massive and roughly finished sculptures in wood, such as Moses (1956; Jerusalem, Israel Mus.), which were deeply expressive.

Goeritz became severely depressed by the death of his wife, the photographer Marianne Goeritz (1910–58), and his work became bitter, aggressive and hard. In 1958–9 he made the first of a series of mural-sized objects called Messages (e.g. 1968; Mexico City, Hotel Camino Real) from metal sheets and nails, and he turned towards spirituality by designing liturgical objects and decorations, in particular the stained-glass windows of Cuernavaca Cathedral (1961).

In 1961 Goeritz participated at the Galería Antonio Souza in a group exhibition, Los hartos, for which he published another manifesto. Other participants included José Luis Cuevas and Pedro Friedeberg, with whom he was instrumental in establishing abstraction and other modern trends in Mexico. His early enthusiasm returned, and he carried out a great number of works, including easel paintings, prints and sculptures. His outstanding sculptures of this period include the Mixcoac Pyramid (1969) at the Unidad Habitacional Lomas de Plateros in Mexico City and his collaboration with Helen Escobedo, Manuel Felguérez, Hersúa, Sebastián and Federico Silva on the Espacio Escultórico (1979; Mexico City, U. N. Autónoma), a large outdoor sculptural complex at the Ciudad Universitaria on the outskirts of Mexico City.

Through his foreign contacts Goeritz was able to help commission sculptures in Mexico by well-known foreign artists, for example a series of 18 works known as La ruta de la amistad (1968) in Mexico City, as well as to execute works of his own abroad, notably at the Alejandro and Lilly Saltiel community centre in Jerusalem (1975–80). He was also instrumental in encouraging and promoting other artists both through his teaching (as in the case of Sebastián) and through his friendship with other artists. His rebellious nature and vigorous promotion of the avant-garde made him a leading figure in the development of modern art in Mexico. He also made regular contributions to the monthly ‘Sección de arte’ in the periodical Arquitectura/México from 1959 to 1978.

 

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