"Mexico is truly the promised land for abstract art," Anni and Josef Albers wrote in 1936 to Wassily Kandinsky, "for here it has existed for thousands of years." This line, from a letter to the founding father of abstract art, is reproduced in a dim corner on a wall at the Antiguo Colegio de San Ildefonso museum in Mexico City's Centro Historico. It expresses the essential argument behind the exhibit "Anni y Josef Albers: Viajes por Latinoamerica," which charts the couple's extensive travels in Mexico and lays out the enormous influence that indigenous Mesoamerican architecture and design exerted on their celebrated lives as artists.
It is a dazzling show that pairs photographs, videos, letters, and pre-Hispanic artifacts against dozens of original pieces by the Albers couple which bear the unmistakable impressions of Indian civilizations, from before the Conquest and during their times: in the manner of the work's geometric principles, the uses of color, and the stark structural formalism drawn from Mesoamerican pyramids. In some instances the correlation is striking, yet with the Albers works you get the added tastes of the various artistic movements that overlapped with their careers in the 1930s, 40s, 50s, and 60s.
San Ildefonso, one of the finest museums in Mexico City, is my personal favorite because it is situated in one of the city's oldest colonial landmarks and is graced with Revolution-era frescoes by Jose Clemente Orozco that would alone be worth the cost of admission (free on Tuesdays). Also currently showing, photographs from around the world by Rene Burri, contemporary works by young artists from the very strong VIII Bienal Monterrey -- Mexico's major northern metropolis -- and a terrific exhibit of turn-of-the-20th Century photographs by H.G. Peabody and Guillermo Kahlo (Frida's father).
That show has Peabody and Kahlo in playful dialogue, highlighting photos both men took of the same cathedrals and historic structures in cities in central and southern Mexico.