No visit to Guadalajara, Mexico can be called complete without seeing the art of world renowned muralist, José Clemente Orozco. And no serious student of the art and culture of Mexico would ever consider their education complete without a personal visit to the city that houses some of this man’s greatest work.
Simply put, Guadalajara and the murals, or as some might say, frescos, of this great Mexican artist should be on the bucket list of everyone who appreciates great art.
Orozco was born in 1883 in what is now Ciudad Guzman, outside of Guadalajara, Jalisco. He is known as one of the three great Mexican muralists along with Diego Rivera and David Siqueros. Together these three are responsible for some of the most important art Mexico has ever produced.Perhaps his greatest works are on display in the Museo del Palacio del Gobierno and the Hospicio Cabañas. The first time I arrived in Guadalajara over 20 years ago, I was picked up by someone who said that before we could go to our destination, we had to do something else first.I sat in the front seat of the car with my friends behind me marveling at the architecture of this great city. After a series of twists and turns, we parked the car and she get out and follow me. Walking up to the old government palace, you could see the pride welling up in her eyes.
A few steps later I learned why.Passing the guards that are always there, she took me inside to show me something that literally knocked my socks off. There, literally larger than life was Miguel Hidalgo, depicted in Orozco’s final work, staring back at me. We then went inside the old governmental chambers to see another of Orozco’s works, The People and Its Leaders.
When we had finished our time, she announced that we could go because now we had seen something really special in Mexico and understood a little of the culture of her great city. I’ve remembered that visit ever since, and any time I take someone to Guadalajara for the first time, I take them to the government palace.
I watch and listen as they learn about Hidalgo’s eyes following you no matter where stand on the stairway. I make sure they understand a little of the history of Mexico when they are admiring The People and its Leaders. Mostly though, I just sit back and am amazed at what Orozco created and the vision that he must have had.And then if folks are really interested, I take them to the Cabañas, at the far end of Plaza Tapatia. The Cabañas, formerly a house for orphans, invalids and elderly, now is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, primarily because of the work of Orozco. At the request of the Mexican Government, between 1936 and 1939, Orozco painted a series of works, the most famous being Man of Fire.
The works that you can see at this sprawling art museum represent for many, Orozco at the height of his career. Truly, they are not be missed.
Sadly, not everyone will be able to get to Guadalajara to see this masters creations. But, if you are in the United States, and are able to get to Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, you can see The Epic of American Civilization, a massive work covering more than 3200 square feet. Here are a few shots from the Cabañas to whet your interest in the art of Jose Clemente Orozco, perhaps the greatest Mexican muralist. [1883 – 1949] Also, if you want to read about the effort to restore some of Orozco’s work, here’s an NYTimes article with a good link to some photos of his work.
If you are going… the government palace, located next to the Cathedral of Guadalajara is open daily and is free to visit the murals, the former chambers and the grounds. It also has the cleanest restrooms in the historic center of the city.
The Hospicio Cabañas is open everyday except Monday. Entrance is free on Tuesdays, otherwise admission is $7.00. If you are taking pictures, there is an additional charge of $3.50.