MEXICO CITY — It would be easy to think of the Kaluz Museum as the expensive hobby of a filthy rich man. After all, the museum located in the center of the city was and still is financed by Antonio del Valle Ruiz, who appears in seventh place on Forbes magazine’s list of the richest Mexicans.
But focusing on the benefactor could distract from the benefit the Kaluz Museum has provided since it opened in 2020: serving as a public display space for the 1,800-piece art collection that Del Valle took five decades to amass. The billionaire’s tastes are on the more traditional side. The collection is mostly made up of figurative painting and includes household names such as José María Velasco, Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros, and José Clemente Orozco.
A tour of the three-story museum, situated along the city’s endearing Alameda Central Park, reveals the collection’s intimate portrait rooms, filled with the faces of rich, poor, white, brown, aristocratic and indigenous Mexicans, and that document the diversity of the country.
The landscape richness of the collection, with dozens of oil paintings on canvas that capture the exuberant flora and volcanic peaks that define the country’s geography, transcends the personal aspects that also define the Kaluz Museum: that the word Kaluz is derived from the second and third syllables of “Blanca Luz Perochena”, the name of Del Valle’s wife, or that he has been able to acquire one of the most important buildings in the city to exhibit his art.
The carefully preserved 18th-century building was originally a residence for Catholic missionaries traveling from Spain to the Philippines.
For Del Valle, the building serves as a way to link Mexico’s larger social history, dating back to colonial times, with its artistic history, and that’s important.
“The friars came to our country by boat, which could take three months to arrive, and they walked from Veracruz to Mexico City,” he explained in an interview. “They stayed in that building to wait for La Nao de la China, who came to Mexico only twice a year,” he added.
Afterwards, they had to walk just under 500 kilometers more to meet the ship. “The only way to get to the Philippines at that time was through Acapulco and across the Pacific,” she said.
The art collection tells a similar story, of how artists took up history after Mexico’s Independence and used their brushes to tell an evolving national identity. Many of the artworks predate the country’s widespread urbanization and offer bucolic views of now-bustling cities like Puebla, Zacatecas, and Cuernavaca. In the same way, his costumbrismo captures the decoration and clothing of Mexicans, from the buttoned-up Spanish upper bourgeoisie to the elegant high society of the sixties.
Del Valle said he wanted Kaluz, one of the city’s few private museums, to be a gift to the country that would last long after his death. The price of admission is quite affordable, it costs about 3 dollars per person and is free if the attendees live in the troubled neighborhood of Guerrero, north of the museum.
Del Valle affirms that the intention of the collection and the museum is to raise the cultural level of the people of Mexico.
Recognition of artists ignored by history is central to that mission. For example, the collection is filled with works by Gerardo Murillo Cornado, also known as Dr. Atl, who lived from 1875 to 1964 and whose soulful Winslow Homer-esque landscapes are among some of the best paintings in the country. Hanging lesser-known talents alongside widely respected names like impressionist Joaquín Clausell, architect-painter Juan O’Gorman, and the modern Rufino Tamayo, Kaluz wants to highlight painters like Francisco Romano Guillemín and Armando García Núñez.
To that same end, the collection has an abundant presence of 20th-century painters, including María Izquierdo, Mercedes Zamora and Olga Costa and Angelina Beloff, whose skills are often overshadowed by the fact that she was the first of Diego Rivera’s four wives.
The Kaluz Museum incorporates its own historical setting into the experience of visiting a museum. In addition to touring the galleries, once the quarters of itinerant Augustinian friars, visitors can pause in the cloister, a central architectural element of the building and one of the best-preserved examples of colonial-era design in the area. city center.
“We believe that this is what is interesting for the public, not only for the Mexican public, but also for the people who come here as tourists, who can get a very good idea of what Mexico has been and how it has represented throughout history,” said the museum’s exhibitions coordinator, Alan Rojas Orzechowski.
The museum, which offers guided tours in Spanish, English, French, Italian and Portuguese, has also converted its rooftop into a café with plants, artwork and a counter serving breakfast and lunch. The views of the Alameda and local monuments stand out, such as the Temple of San Hipólito and the modern skyscraper of the Latin American Tower.
Veka Duncan, who leads museum tours and serves as its media coordinator, notes that the Kaluz Museum he is still figuring out his role in the city’s cultural scene. It opened shortly before the coronavirus pandemic, so it’s off to a slow start with forced closures and reopenings.
But at the end of August it closed for several days to reorganize the exhibitions and the presentation of the new samples in September served to reintroduce them to the public. The museum has also cleared space to start bringing in works of art from outside the collection, which Duncan says will “dialogue” with current works.
This opens up a world of possibilities for things to come and the museum continues to acquire objects and include more living artists in its list of authors.
However, Del Valle insists that the Kaluz Museum will stick to its prudent mission of collecting and presenting only figurative art, and that this will continue to define its personality.
“I don’t understand much about contemporary art,” he said.
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