Julio Galán (Mexican 1958-2006)
Julio Galán (Mexican 1958-2006)

Mar de Múzquiz

Julio Galán (Mexican 1958-2006)
Mar de Múzquiz
signed and dated 'Julio Galán, 1988' (lower right) inscribed 'RECORDO QUE LOS AHOGADOS ANTES DE MORIRSE, VOLVIAN A RECORDAR Y A VIVIR SU VIDA ENTERA EN UN MINUTO.' (along the upper edge)
oil on canvas
59 x 70 in. (149.9 x 177.8 cm.)
Painted in 1988.
Galerie Barbara Farber, Amsterdam (acquired directly from the artist).
Acquired from the above by the present owner.

Lot Essay

When Mexican artist Julio Galán painted Mar de Múzquiz in 1988 he was well on his way to establishing an international artistic presence. Guillermo Sepúlveda was representing him in Monterrey, Nuevo León, Annina Nosei in New York City, and Barbara Farber in Amsterdam. His first major retrospective had opened at the Museo de Monterrey in September of 1987 and fifty of the works had traveled on to the Museo de Arte Moderno in Mexico City for exhibition April 1-May 15, 1988. During the subsequent decades Thaddaeus Ropac would work with Galán in Paris, Gian Enzo Sperone in Rome, Timothy Taylor in London, and Robert Miller and Ramis Barquet in New York City. Galán would be the only Mexican painter invited to participate in the collective exhibition Magiciens de la Terre at the Centre Georges Pompidou in 1989, and in the same museum’s 100 Best Contemporary Artists exhibition in 1990. Galán’s further international success was evidenced by individual exhibitions at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam in 1992, the Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art in Rotterdam in 1990, and the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Monterrey (MARCO) in 1993. Galán was awarded the coveted MARCO Prize in 1994 with a check for $250,000. Held up to this point in a private collection in Amsterdam, Mar de Múzquiz attests to Galán’s rising internationalism in the late 80s.

Mar de Múzquiz presents, what appears to be, a serene seascape. Waves with foaming crests roll in toward the viewer as moonlight carves a wide path through the water’s surface. Craggy, even ominous rocks jut out from the sea as a collaged element suggesting a palm tree, denies illusionistic space. There is no visible, physical human presence here, nor any ship on the horizon. Thick cancellation marks painted on the canvas’ center function as the hands of a clock, indicating time passing, a fixed moment in time, or an object—the clock itself, behind its face a kitsch, idealic scene, reminiscent of a chromolithograph poster or a pulqueria (tavern) painting. Blocky letters seemingly painted free-hand, creating movement with their slight variation in size, run across the top of his canvas. These words proclaim: “(He) remembered that the drowned, before dying, began to remember once again and to relive their entire life in one minute.”

Galán extracted and slightly altered this sobering phrase from Mexican novelist Fernando del Paso’s epic Noticias del imperio of 1987, a retelling of events surrounding the French Intervention in Mexico (1861-67).[1] Of importance is not the appropriated quote’s original context—a memory that Benito Juarez hallucinates as he lays dying of angina while longing for both relief from the excruciating chest pain, and absolution for his transgressive life’s actions—but that Galán, one, likely read and absorbed Del Paso’s lengthy work that “celebrates postmodern fragmentation with contradictory voices that question Mexico’s ‘grand narratives,’ critiques Mexico’s relations with Europe and the United States through the lens of postcolonial theory, and questions and reshapes historiography.”[2]; And two, Galán follows his own personal or internal logic, a self-referrential one (of course, veiled), as he juxtaposes text and image. As Annina Nosei explains of Julio Galán’s oeuvre, “Every work he ever painted was about identity.”[3] And, every work, including Mar de Múzquiz, was a self-portrait—whether Galán employed the figure (of varying gender and age), or painted a landscape, objects, animals, fruit, flowers, a still life, or frequently, juxtaposed all of the former on a single canvas.

In naming his birthplace Múzquiz (Coahuila) in this painting’s title, Galán evoked memory. Galán was one of five siblings in the long-established Galán-Romo family that had gained its wealth in ranching and the mining of charcoal, lead, and silver in the hot, dry desert climate of this northern pueblo located 83 miles from the U.S. border. When asked in 1981 at age 23 what memories he held of Múzquiz, where he spent the first 11 years of his childhood before being transplanted to the industrial city of Monterrey, Galán commented, “Very quiet memories. Had I not lived in Músquiz I might not be painting in the way that I paint now. Right now as I think of that, of Múzquiz, or rather, of my house, I am wrapped in an atmosphere quite distinct from this one (Monterrey)—everything is quieter, you know fewer people, you withdraw into yourself, you are involved more with your family. That environment influenced me a lot; they are hazy memories...melancholic ones.”[4] Several years later he remarked that the move from Múzquiz to Monterrey “broke with the world in which I lived, with the affection of those who surrounded me. When I arrived here I wanted everything to be the same as it was there. I believe that what affected me the most was the change from childhood to adolescence. I did not want to stop being a child. I did not like adult responsabilities.”[5] Mar de Múzquiz transmits this sense of nostalgia, loss, and longing.

There is no “mar” (sea) anywhere near Múzquiz (although there are mountains, the Sabinas River, and cascades); rather, Mar de Múzquiz serves as a metaphor for space and time, Galán’s meditation on existence. Two other related artworks by the artist contribute to this understanding or “reading” of Mar de Múzquiz. One is a pastel created in the same year that, like Mar de Múzquiz presents a seascape, this time in daylight and devoid of text, with the same clock hands floating in front of the image. Telling is this work’s title, “Mi reloj (My Clock), which again suggests a physical object—the artist’s clock—as well as his life’s timespan, one that was ultimately much too short given his tragic death at only 48 years of age (1958–2006). The second work, Storm Self-Portrait of 1991 presents yet another seascape. Here a ship flounders in a tumultuous sea under portentous clouds; the word “balo” (destruction) that Galán has painted in the sky, is echoed by the holes he has torn in the canvas. The work’s title here too is significant as he himself identifies the raging sea, the struggling vessel, and the destructive forces, as a self-portrait. Like every work Galán produced, Mar de Múzquiz examines the self and provokes and seduces the viewer with its enigma, mystery, and private codes.

Teresa Eckmann, Associate Professor of Contemporary Latin American Art History, University of Texas at San Antonio

1 Fernando del Paso, Noticias del imperio (Mexico City: Diana, 1987), 670 pages.
2 Elisabeth Guerrero, “Burying the Emperor: Mourning in Fernando del Paso’s ‘Noticias del imperio,’” Latin American Literary Review 34.67(2006): 94.
3 Annina Nosei, interview with the author, New York City, New York, July 30, 2013.
4 Patricia García Cavazos, “Julio Galán: Nueva proposición en la pintura jóven,” El Porvenir (4 October 1981): 25-27.
5 “Galán busca a Dios en su pintura,” El Porvenir (10 September 1987): n.p.

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