I frankly didn't expect Guanajuato to offer much art-wise. I mean, everybody talks about Guanajuato as a place to go see performances during their Festival Cervantino, or as a place to have walks around the alleys with a group of university troubadours ("callejoneadas"). But nobody ever talks about museums or art, right? Well, you would probably not travel all the way to this city just to see art, but it had some pretty unique things in store for me!
Let's start with some of the bloodiest Christ images I had ever seen! Wow! No wonder people from other religions are sometimes repulsed by Catholic churches and imagery! At the Templo de la Compañía, for example, there was this Christ leaning on a pillar, and part of his back, his side, part of his chest and part of his arm had no flesh and were showing muscle, and tendons, and blood... I mean, what? I think I had seen images with blood, or with sort of gashes, but flailed skin showing what's underneath? I couldn't believe my eyes.
Now, Catholic temples in Guanajuato get an A+ for grim images, but also for creative ones! Will you please look at the monster by the Virgin Mary? Where did this Balinese monster come from? And where in the cosmology of Catholicism is a monster part of the Virgin Mary ensemble? Stepping on cherub heads, yeah, pretty standard, but Jaga the Hutt's ugly brother? Priceless.
Then there's the Alhóndiga de Granaditas, the place of a terrible massacre in the first days of Mexico's Independence movement. It's said that the insurgents' leader, Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, was so shocked by the massacre of Spaniards defending the warehouse and the pillaging of Guanajuato that followed, that he decided not to move on to Mexico City at the time.
Anyhow, at this former warehouse there are quite a few things of interest, like murals by Guanajuato artist José Chávez Morado. Not really my cup of tea, but still.
Then there are several rooms with different exhibitions. There's one with items from the colonial era, which included this reliquary with, of course, bone fragments!
There's another one with ex-votos, which are little paintings made by people who believed were saved by God, the Virgin Mary, Jesus, a Saint, etc., during some dire situation. The paintings usually tell the story of what happened, both as thanks for being granted help and as testimony for others. They are usually colourful, detailed, and it's fascinating reading them. Guanajuato being the mining place it was, there were many ex-votos that talked about mine accidents and miners not getting killed.
My favourite collection there was a pre-Hispanic exhibition on seals, though. It's very rare to see these things! There were seals for everything - for certifying documents, for adorning the skin, for creating patterns... I loved the variety of shapes and designs!
We also visited quite a number of smaller museums, like the Casa de Diego Rivera. The house he actually lived in as a child. Or maybe mansion would be more appropriate, with numerous floors and rooms, terraces... The exhibitions inside are fine, but just seeing what sort of childhood Diego Rivera had was very interesting.
Another museum worth visiting just to see the building is the Museo del Pueblo de Guanajuato, in a beautiful house that use to belong to a marquis. And what would such a wealthy family have at home, on the second floor? Their own chapel, of course, in baroque style and built with pink stone. Really special. There were also 17th and 18th century exhibits, where I found a strange image of a Jesus on the cross, except this one had no long hair, but more like a crew cut? There was no way to tell if it had had a wig that had fallen off, or whether that was the intended design, as there was no explanation (an annoying situation in most of the museums we visited, I have to say).
Then there was the Teatro Juárez, a beautiful 19th century theatre with very rich interiors! If you saw the film Eisenstein in Guanajuato (and if you haven't, you should), this theatre is what they filmed as the lodgings of Eisenstein. We even listened to a conference on cinema by Agnieszka Holland in the same room that made for Eisenstein's bedroom in the film!
Now, since I'm mentioning the conference, I have to say it was very interesting, with Agnieszka calling attention to the fact, for example, of how some film-makers that had survived World Wars had a broader view of the world that was reflected in their film-making, whereas some young film-makers that have known no destruction on that scale have only personal dramatic experiences to rely on. She wasn't judging or criticizing, of course, but just mentioning that such radically different experiences had an effect on what film-makers made. Unfortunately, only English speakers could follow what she was saying, because the translator was the most inept person I had ever hear translate, atrociously summarizing, changing facts and places, and forgetting about half of what Agnieszka said.
I saved the best for last - public sculptures! With so many squares and corners created by the winding streets and the hilly nature of the city, there were plenty of opportunities for placing public art, and the city's government did just that. There was, for example, a Giganta (giantess) by José Luis Cuevas, right by Teatro Juárez.
And Leonora Carrington's sculptures were just about everywhere! Later we learned this was an itinerant exhibition that was ending a few days after we left, so lucky! Her surrealist sculptures sat so well with Guanajuato's atmosphere...
A very nice surprise, Guanajuato! Just two more posts, I think, ahead. Because I haven't shown how the city looked like in general yet, right?