Imagine if one of your favorite artists passed away, doesn’t matter what medium, and all their work was bought up by one individual and sealed away. Let’s use Prince as an example. If someone purchased his archives, songs, notes, guitars, etc., and sealed it all away from fans and family it would cause quite a controversy.
In Jill Magid’s documentary “The Proposal,” the legacy of Mexico’s renowned architect Luis Barragán is at the center of this engrossing film. Seven years after his death in 1988, Barragán’s archives were sold to Swiss furniture company Vitra as a wedding gift for the owner’s fiancé Federica Zanco, an architectural historian, and devotee. For almost 25 years the collection has been inaccessible to all including scholars and Barragán’s family. Now, with the help of Magid, they want it moved back to Mexico. Her proposal, though somewhat ghoulish, could well be the most ingenious plan ever conceived.
One of the most compelling scenes in the documentary takes place in Guadalajara at the Rotonda de los Jaliscienses Ilustres where Barragán’s cremated remains are entombed in a monument next to other Jalisco notables who have been recognized for their significant contributions to society. Suddenly the sounds of chisels fill the air as workers remove Barragán’s plague to exhume his ashes stored in an oxidized urn guarded by thousands of ants. With the architect’s family nearby, Magid takes a couple of scoops of the remains and transfers them to a plastic bag. They will be used as a bargaining tool to entice Zanco during the documentary’s climax captured via hidden camera at the café located at Vitra headquarters.
The film boils down to a tug of war between two women fixated on Luis Barragán’s work. Over a three-year period, Magid and Zanco corresponded via letters, always cordial with responses from Zanco that feel dismissive.
I guess the Italian historian didn’t realize that Magid was a Brooklyn-based artist with the drive and determination of most New Yorkers. Her conceptual art has been exhibited at New York’s Whitney Museum, as well as Tate Modern in London, Berkeley Museum of Art in California, and in galleries around the world from Paris to Mexico City.
‘The Proposal” remains fixated on director Jill Magid as she wonders about Barragan’s home studio where she’s allowed to sleep in a bed which once accommodated Barragan’s lovers. She’s photographed going through his books and artwork while planning an elaborate dinner for the architect’s family to get their support behind her proposal to get Barragán’s archives back to Mexico and open to the public. When Zanco acquired the collection decades ago she promised to exhibit the archive under the non-profit Barragan Foundation (which she started sans accent) but that never happened. She also copyrighted the complete œuvre of Luis Barragán including all the photographs which were taken by his personal photographer Armando Salas Portugal. I should mention, the story behind how Barragán's archive slipped out of the family's hands and into the possession of a Swiss collector is also fascinating. It involves a former business partner, a New York gallery, a suicide and a widow.
I won’t divulge Magid’s proposal to Zanco which makes use of Barragán’s ashes but after viewing the documentary I have begun contemplating how I may incorporate her project into my personal life. The engrossing film serves as a great introduction to Barragán’s work for those not familiar with the late architect. The audience is entertained by an atmosphere usually found in a sleuth thriller which makes sense since Magid once trained as a spy.