Mathias Goeritz, Torres de Ciudad Satélite (Towers of Satellite City), 1957, wood, paint, dimensions variable.

Mathias Goeritz, Torres de Ciudad Satélite (Towers of Satellite City), 1957, wood, paint, dimensions variable.

Mathias Goeritz

Mathias Goeritz, Torres de Ciudad Satélite (Towers of Satellite City), 1957, wood, paint, dimensions variable.

El retorno de la serpiente. Mathias Goeritz y la invención de la arquitectura emocional” (The Return of the Snake: Mathias Goeritz and the Invention of Emotional Architecture) presented some two hundred works and documents by the German-born artist, who worked in Mexico from 1949 until his death in 1990, alongside those of many of his peers. As the title suggests, the show, curated by Francisco Reyes Palma, took Goeritz’s conception of “emotional architecture” as its theme, and so it fittingly opened with his sculpture Ataque o la serpiente del Eco (Attack or the Serpent at Eco), 1953/2014. The title evokes a figure common in the art of ancient Mexico, but in its more than twenty-five-foot-long form, the work’s twists and various peaks and falls abandon reptilian sinuousness in favor of hard-edge geometry and a scale that offers a bodily encounter for the viewer. Documentary photographs of the work’s original staging in 1953 show that the serpent’s “attack” then consisted of an expressive, rather than rationalist, geometry that challenged the muralists’ figurative aesthetic. The work was first presented in the courtyard of the Museo Experimental El Eco, which Goeritz himself designed; the building’s refusal of right angles similarly promoted the architecture’s phenomenological impact.

The next galleries turned to urban projects such as Torres de Ciudad Satélite (Towers of Satellite City), 1957, and Ruta de Amistad (Route of Friendship), 1968. The first was a collaboration with architect Luis Barragán, in which Goeritz’s monumental forms were sited along a superhighway at the Ciudad Satélite development just north of the Mexican capital. Goeritz’s towers courted the dynamic vision afforded by driving—the view from a passing vehicle would reveal multiple perspectives between volumetric shapes and abstract design. Given its urban site, the work created what Barragán called a “plastic publicity symbol.” Such city branding also informs Goeritz’s projects for the 1968 Olympics. For Ruta de Amistad, he commissioned sculptures by nineteen international artists. As seen through photographs, drawings, and sculptural models, these monumental works were located along the Olympic Village’s ring road and encompassed everything from the pristine geometry of Herbert Bayer to the more “primitivist” style of Pierre Székely. Goeritz’s commitment to experimentation was yoked to a transhistorical ambition: The sculptures seem to occupy space ex nihilo with the aim of persisting forever.

Further spaces successfully charted the ways in which Goeritz’s proposal for an affective geometry also extended to his painting, graphics, and visual poetry. “El retorno de la serpiente” also situated him in relation to his peers in the Düsseldorf-based Group Zero as well as to the French Nouveau Réalistes. But here the choice of works failed to make legible the continuities and discontinuities in artistic objectives; for example, the documentation related to Goeritz’s protest against Jean Tinguely’s self-destructing machine at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1960 appears as little more than a couple of documents in a vitrine.

On the other hand, three galleries effectively revealed the lesser-known history of Goeritz in Spain, as well as a few of his works produced under the pseudonym Magó. Accordingly, his bridging of the modern and the timeless is traced to his participation in the artist group Escuela de Altamira (Altamira School) in northern Spain. Taking the eponymous caves as inspiration, these artists called themselves “new prehistorics,” embracing painterly spontaneity and the idea of the man-child. But the exhibition barely touched on how such a projection of primeval innocence might have become a way for Goeritz to work through his participation in the Nazi state apparatus, even though he was never a party member. Projects such as Laberinto de Jerusalén (The Jerusalem Labyrinth), 1973, however, helped the viewer stitch this problematic together. Through its combination of Jewish, Christian, and Islamic symbols, this community center suggests the peaceful coexistence of different belief systems. What thus emerges is how Goeritz’s transhistorical practice, one informed by his transnational experience, was a response to and commemoration of a tragic history, and an embodiment of his hope for an alternative future. When describing the development of emotional architecture, Reyes Palma describes the artist’s paradoxes thus: “Anachronism was made a modernizing agent.”

Kaira M. Cabañas