Restoration on The Inquisition in Morelia, Mexico


In the early 1930’s, Manual Art’s High school (LA) drop-out Philip Goldstein met Otis student Reuben Kadish, who had worked with the famous Mexican muralist David Siquieros on his first US project “Tropical America.” As co-members of the leftist-leaning John Reed Club, Goldstein and Kadish helped create a series of frescoes that were attacked and destroyed by the Ku Klux Klan. And thus began an extraordinary adventure that led them to the University town of Morelia, Mexico where, with Siquieros’ help, they were given free license to express their creativity on a large wall of the University library. In 6 months they created an extraordinary 1024 square foot fresco, “The Inquisition,” abruptly terminated, and never again seen by the artists.

In 1935 Time Magazine called it “One of the biggest, most effective frescoes in all Mexico.” Reflecting the socially driven Mexican muralist messaging and supported by a powerful controversial imagery, it was threatened with destruction shortly after completion. Miraculously spared by being hidden behind a hastily constructed false wall in the Museo Regional de Michoacan (Morelia), its accidental discovery following a ceiling leak in 1973 rendered it visible once again; nonetheless, it continued to languish in the rarely visited second courtyard of the Museum for another 30 years.

In 2003, New York sculptor Leah Poller was invited to exhibit in this same museum. “During my exhibition, the Museum Director Arq. Eugenio Mercado Lopez took me to a closed portion of the museum and showed me ‘The Inquisition’ (also known as ‘The Struggle Against War and Terror’). Although it was signed Philip Goldstein, Mercado had recently had a visit by Kadish’s surviving brother who informed him that when Goldstein joined his art school buddy Jackson Pollock in New York to found the Abstract Expressionist Movement, he changed his name to Philip Guston, an artist unknown to Mercado.

“From the moment Mercado recounted this story, I realized that the cultural and historical importance of this work would need a concerted US-Mexican effort to return it to its true place in contemporary art history. Seriously damaged over time, and with many mysteries remaining to be solved, I joined forces with fellow sculptor and renowned Mexican cultural activist Arquitecto Arturo Macias to create IACI, Inc. (Intercambio de Arte y Cultura Internacionale AC), and we began a program to re-acquaint both Mexico and the US with this outstanding work,” states Poller.

A series of international conference programs and exhibitions organized by IACI included presentations by Gregorio Luke, renowned muralist historian and Director of MOLAA (Museum of Latin American Art – CA), Alfred Boime – UCLA historian, Argelio Castillo – Mexican Art Critic and Miguel Angel Corso, ex Director of Conservation at the Getty. The voluminous press coverage generated in Mexico served as a clarion to the mural’s plight and need for immediate attention to save it from further deterioration.

“The highlight of IACI’s efforts was the day that Musa Mayer (Guston’s daughter and only heir), David McKee (Director of his NY Gallery) and Mel Pekarsky, a representative of the Kadish Foundation, all converged in Morelia to see this work for the first time,” states Poller. “They were overcome by emotion. At this point, the US-Mexican awareness was reciprocal”.

Nonetheless, it took several more years for the Mexican government to allocate funds for the restoration program. States INAH restoration expert and Director of the project Fco. Javier Salazar Herrera, “We have succeeded in stabilizing the ongoing deterioration. We look forward to a successful restoration.”

Renowned Mexican mural historian Gregorio Luke concludes, “The presence of Diego Rivera, Jose Clemente Orozco and David Siqueiros in the U.S. is well known; what has been less studied is the work of American artists during that period in Mexico…”The Inquisition” is one of largest and most important murals created in Latin America by American artists. But in a larger sense, it is an example of the dialogue that existed between American and Latin American artists in the 20th century. Simply stated: this is a work that cannot be ignored because it changes the interpretation of art in the Americas.”

For further information: e:leahpoller(at)aol(dot)com or The Art Alliance/IACI Inc.
(212) 274 1704

See more here on the Mural Restoration