It’s odd that we invest in stuff. Every thing we buy gets frozen in its moment, in our past, and achieves obsolescence as fast as it takes to get to the next version. Art does the same thing. And maybe that’s why we’ve become so comfortable with conceptual art, because it can feel timeless.
Everything I thought I wanted to say about Frederico Vigil’s fresco “Mundos de Mestizaje” came to me while listening to Kanye West’s album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. I was speeding through Arizona on my way to a funeral, my brain washing over everything from Bob Dylan to Michelangelo.
Picturing Vigil’s sprawling 4,000-square-foot work is difficult. It soars from floor to ceiling, about 40 feet up, and there isn’t a unified narrative; it’s a hundred different things at once. The highway compelled me to connect his effort to the past and to the future, and, because I didn’t want to forget a thing, I tried to write while I was driving, which is not easy. With my eyes on the road and one hand on the wheel, my right hand searched for a pen and a sheet of paper, scratching down key words I thought I needed to remember. They were: ROY ACUFF, NASHVILLE GHETTO and PWEI. Hmmm...
The question driving my thinking was one of longevity; how long something lasts. Of course I was asking this because I was headed to a funeral, but I also think it’s an unavoidable question whenever art is concerned, especially in the company of a mural expected to exist “forever.”
For years to come, thousands of visitors will look at “Mundos de Mestizaje” and read the histories that swim in the blood of the people around us.
Some—not incorrectly—proclaim the greatness of Frederico Vigil’s fresco in the Torreón at the National Hispanic Cultural Center. Some even compare it to the work of Michelangelo. I think they’re missing the point. It’s not a question of quality but one of intent. The work started off in the past; it started off old. This curious antediluvian veil makes it seem as if it’s always existed—that’s the nature of the process and the content. Filled with 3,000 years of history, this fresco will be studied primarily by future generations of historians and other students of history. It wasn’t made to change the future of art, but to reinforce the strength of this kind of historic document. Vigil has created a 4,000-square-foot map of the past—and while the work is beautifully rendered, its real depth is historical, walking us from cave painting to El Camino Real, from Christopher Columbus to César Chávez. History is not only the starting point, it’s the entire content of the fresco.
NHCC and Vigil are invested in that very content, because knowing one’s history is crucial to future Hispanic generations. Vigil aims to match the original intent of the frescoes found in the Arena Chapel in Padua or on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel or even on the walls of the Palacio Nacional in Mexico City: to be a beautiful educational tool. And because of that, for years to come, thousands of visitors will look at “Mundos de Mestizaje” and read the histories that swim in the blood of the people around us.
So, on that drive, I was swimming in Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. The album is all surface and no history, more immediate than any fresco. It was made in months versus Vigil’s nearly 10-year slough on “Mundos de Mestizaje,” and the album will slip away just as fast. Pure pop music does this; it captures the present and then fades into a sentimental reminder of that moment—to a degree, like modern art.
West’s appeal is in the way he plays at persecution, making the listener feel the necessity of now. He makes you feel that the music is so important, that this very moment is so important, without weighing you down with reality. The big illusion is that the album is edgy when in fact it’s formalism at its danciest. He’s taken everything he’s learned from RZA, Kool Keith and indie music and neatly packaged it into an incredibly even, candy-coated 14-track album. It’s no history painting; West doesn’t have time for that. But it’s absolutely amazing. For now.