The strange story of the Barragán archives: to end the scandal of the architect transformed into a diamond

The strange story of the Barragán archives: to end the scandal of the architect transformed into a diamond

Brilliant, complex, current. Definitely disturbing.
“How does an artist survive his own death? I ask myself the question, too, as an artist: what will happen to my work?

Part of the multimedia and long-term artistic project of the American visual artist and author Jill Magid, The Barragan Archives (after the Mexican architect Luis Barragan1902-1988), is currently exhibited at the Center Pompidou in Paris. On the phone from Brooklyn, Magid weighs her every word. A short, frank laugh punctuates certain sentences, as if she were trying to excuse the intellectual rigor and precision of her work.

She was keen on this exchange, probably anxious to ensure that the deep nature of the work would not be obliterated by a salvo of exclamation points and shock formulas. That his work would not be confined to the famous controversy that has caused so much ink to flow (and at the same time reinforced the already international reputation of the artist). But also to protect themselves, in a way: “The nature of my work, which explores some of the limits of the law, involves a form of endangerment.”

Mexican architect Luis Barragán, 1902-1988. | Wikimedia Commons

In 2016, the international press seized “the case”. The reactions oscillated between horror, stupefaction and admiring amusement in the face of the astonishing story of Barragán’s remains, transformed into a diamond, then mounted into a ring intended to free the professional archives of the Mexican architect, held in Switzerland by a private company which blocked access to them to the public and monetized the slightest reproduction (even by writing it, there is reason to run out of steam).

“Intimate relationships with power structures”

His concern is well-founded: from his Barragan Archiveswhich occupy a vast room in the Center Pompidou (the French museum acquired the work), the controversy has more often been retained than the context in which Jill Magid inscribed her approach.

“I understand that the press gave in to the temptation to make these into tantalizing headlines, which focused on the controversy rather than the real subject. But this controversy, I did not seek to create it. Jill Magid lets out a resigned sigh. She knows full well that it was “a provocative work, since it seeks to question, therefore likely to generate controversy”.

If the headlines did not shock her, she lamented a certain lack of curiosity or understanding of certain media towards her multi-layered approach. The shortcut was easy, we had given in to it.

What fascinates Magid are the intangible tensions between the individual and the systems of so-called protective authorities. The American artist explains that she enjoys developing “intimate relationship with power structuressuch as the police, the secret services, the surveillance cameras»unfolding a narrative format “who often takes the form of a love story». A game of seduction and a taste for exploring limits which notably earned, as we will discuss later, some cold sweats from the Dutch secret services.

Territory of privatized power

With The Barragan Archivesshe ventured, she confides to the conservatives Hirsch and McGraw for the compendium dedicated to the work, on “a new territory of privatized power. I wanted to understand what it meant, for the legacy of a given artist, to be controlled by a private company. A story as multi-layered as the work.

To avoid any confusion, it is necessary to make the distinction between two types of archives in connection with the Mexican architect: in the first place, there are personal archives, kept in his country of origin. Then his professional archives, held by Barragan Foundation in Switzerland and then in Germany – whose owners, an architectural historian, Federica Zanco, and her husband Rolf Felhbaum registered the mark “Barragan”, without accent.

The San Cristobal Stables by Luis Barragán. The architect, who was accused of only working for wealthy clients, once retorted: “No, for horses too.” | Steve Silverman via Flickr

Finally, Tea Barragan Archives are also the name of this long-term work by Jill Magid, which lawyer Daniel McLean presents as “a complex project, which has been developing since 2013 in the form of varied visual iterations, including installations, discreet works of art, performances, both in private and public spaces around the world”. And if McLean is familiar with Magid’s work, it is partly because the plot of her work led her to seek the advice of lawyers “in the United States, in Switzerland, in France…”.

At the start of the project, a visit to the house-workshop of Luis Barragán in Mexico City in 2012. The gallery that represents Jill Magid is opposite, and she takes the opportunity to discover the place. On this occasion, the director of the museum, Catalina Corcuera, tells him about the strange journey of the architect’s archives, part of which has then been kept in a bunker in Switzerland out of sight for almost two decades. The master’s professional archives, Corcuera confides to him, would have been offered to a woman as a wedding gift.

It doesn’t take much for Magid to imagine a landmark work; a refusal would soon initiate the beginning of an artistic saga which would even, a few years later, be immortalized in the cinema and produced by an Oscar-winning director.

The continuation of the strange history of the Barragán archives tomorrow, in the second episode of our series Love, Glory and (Intellectual) Property: “A bunker in Germany and a Gothic love story”

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