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Irish-born abstract artist depicts fascination with Mexico in major exhibition at Cabañas

Sean Scully may not be a household name on the order of Picasso, Van Gogh or Kahlo.

pg9aBut the 73-year-old artist, whose paintings, photographs, and one massive sculpture are on display in Guadalajara until September 29, boasts a staggering reputation (National Gallery, Tate Gallery, Guggenheim, to name a few) over and above the 50 or so pieces shown in “Sean Scully – Los Años en Mexico.”

Perhaps Scully’s name doesn’t appear on a short list of best-known modern artists because he is still living. But his relative lack of name recognition may also be because his work (not including his photographs) is abstract, sometimes even minimalist. Although a couple of abstract artists (Pollock and Kandinsky) made the cut, the general public has long been underwhelmed by art they believe their child could do, ever since the thunder of art that depicts the “real world” was stolen by photography (which, of course, a child can do). 

Leaving aside the fascinating questions of whether some abstract art is copyrightable (including a black rectangle with parallel, gray horizontal lines Scully made during his minimalist period), and, indeed, whether someone would even want to copy it, we turn to Scully’s work in this current show. 

I believe artists and lovers of Mexico, both of whom abound in the foreign community here, will find the show inspiring. In part this is because it is housed in the Instituto Cultural Cabañas, which is such a joy to visit and whose central space contains the powerful and famous murals by Orozco. But mostly it is because this work was clearly inspired by Scully’s many, merry jaunts during the 1980s to the streets of old cities and to archaeological sites, apparently mostly in southeast Mexico, as is attested by his huge photographs hanging with his mostly small and medium-sized watercolors and oils.

pg9cPerhaps modern art is, in a sense, more experiential than earlier art, which aimed to record the world visually and promoted those holding political and religious power. Whether the modern artistic experience be about personal politics, philosophy, moods or emotions, the focus seems to be as much on artists themselves as on the external world.


And in Scully’s work in this show, one does experience him, through both his art and his writings on the gallery walls. We sense him excitedly heading off in an old Toyota to Palenque or Tulum, cranking out watercolors on site in his little sketchbook, eagerly learning Spanish at the age of 50, enjoying the “kind” Mexicans he met, stuck in a line of old cars full of Mexican families looking for an inn on Christmas, or arriving in “grandiose and grey” Guadalajara to see Orozco’s “ferocious and beautiful” murals, still located right next to the salon where his show is exhibited.

“Sean Scully – Los Años en Mexico” shows until September 29 at Instituto Cultural Cabañas, Plaza Tapatias (Cabañas 8) about five blocks behind (east of) Teatro Degollado, (33) 3618 2800 ext. 31642, 31014. Open Tuesday to Sunday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Closed Mondays. Cost: 70 pesos for adult foreigners – officials say that showing green “Residente” card gets foreigners in for the normal “Turismo nacional” price of 45 pesos. 20 pesos for seniors with INSEN credential and children 12 and older. Tuesdays free. 

Inspired by the Scully show, every Tuesday in June, a session to reflect upon and paint subjective abstract art (based on figures, forms and color) is offered in the Instituto Cabañas from noon to 2 p.m. and 4 to 6 p.m. In Spanish. Free. Open to the general public of all ages.

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