by Jennifer Josten. Yale University Press, October 2018. 352 p. ill. ISBN 9780300228601 (h/c), $65.00.

Reviewed July 2019
Barbara Opar, Librarian for Architecture, Syracuse University Libraries, baopar@syr.edu

JostenBased on her prize-winning dissertation, Jennifer Josten’s book is the first English language monograph on Mathias Goeritz, a German-born mid-century sculptor and painter who immigrated to Mexico with his wife in 1949.

In her introduction, Josten comments: “Goeritz’s life was defined by twentieth-century politics and migratory patterns,” a point reinforced by her description of his art history education and training in Germany and teaching, writing and exhibiting in Spain. This serves as a background for her in-depth study of his transformative effect on Mexican art, architecture, and design. Goeritz taught at the Escuela de Arquitectura in Guadalajara, where he invented a visual education course incorporating ideas drawn from Laszlo Moholy-Nagy and Gyorgy Kepes, helping to build the school’s reputation.

In addition to advancing architectural education in Mexico, Goeritz also continued to do exhibitions and publish. To help promote acceptance of abstract art in Mexico, he organized an exhibition of the work of Henry Moore and Angel Ferrant, with whom he had previously collaborated in Madrid.

As his connections and influence grew, Goeritz stepped out of the classroom and “onto the construction site, as well as the national stage” with a commission from Luis Barragan for a monumental sculpture at the Pedregal Gardens. He was approached by Daniel Mont to design an experimental gallery in the center of Mexico City, El Eco. Labelled as “sculpture writ large” by Philip Johnson, El Eco was Goeritz’s vision for an emotional architecture.

The Satellite Towers were another influential project. Designed as an architectural folly, Goeritz’s and Barragan’s original concept called for seven towers. The design aimed to incorporate local traditions with new international trends and to typify emotional architecture and the New Monumentality.

Following divorce and later the death of his wife and collaborator, Goeritz’s works took a religious turn as he began to create in other mediums like stained glass. Monumental commissions grew, such as planning for the Olympics. At the same time, he pursued his long-standing interest in concrete poetry and ideograms. Josten manages to present his long career and complex ideas clearly and engagingly. The reader is easily drawn into the artist’s life and the crucial role he played in modern Mexican art.

Thoroughly researched, the book is highly recommended for academic art and architecture collections. It includes understandable notes, an extensive bibliography and well-organized index. While the subject may be somewhat esoteric, the author writes in a very accessible manner. In addition to learning about the life of Mathias Goeritz, the reader will receive an in-depth introduction to Cold War Mexico - it’s politics, philosophy, and art.