A Confluence of Civilizations
Mexican artist Juan O'Gorman and the mural he created for the 1968 World's Fair in San Antonio, Texas
Juan O'Gorman: A Confluence of Civilizations follows O'Gorman's life and the creation of his mural Confluence of Civilizations in the Americas, a spectacular piece of midcentury public art that stands the test of time as one of the Mexican artist's most influential works.
O'Gorman was a muralist, painter, mosaic artist, critic, and professor, as well as an architect. He is possibly best known for his close friendship with Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo and as the designer of their unconventional two-house studio in Mexico City. O'Gorman was born in Coyoacán, Mexico, in 1905, and when he was young the family moved to Guanajuato. O'Gorman's grandmother was his inspiration, building him a small art studio and introducing him to the vibrant colors of the rocks and hillsides that would later influence his art and architecture. While studying architecture at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, O'Gorman became a follower of Franco-German rationalism and was one of the first Mexican architects to break from the traditional style. He went on to create the world's largest mural on the university's massive Central Library, covering all sides and measuring 4,000 square meters.
As a professor at Yale University in the 1960s, O'Gorman lectured at the University of Texas in Austin, where he was invited to San Antonio by Marshall Steves, president of the city's HemisFair Exposition. Funded with a gift by local philanthropist Flora Cameron Crichton, O'Gorman was commissioned to create the Confluence of Civilizations in the Americas mural, which today adorns one wall of the convention center along San Antonio's River Walk. The five-ton mosaic measured 2,600 square feet and consisted of 540 numbered panels, each weighing about ninety pounds. The panels were produced at O'Gorman's studio outside Mexico City and trucked to San Antonio for installation at the newly constructed convention center. On the mural's far left Quetzalcóatl, the ancient god of Mesoamerica, is resplendent in his cloak of colored feathers and jade. The plumed serpent undulates across the landscape, embodying the spirit of Latin America. On the far right another drama begins in ancient Macedonia as Zeus travels toward the center, past the influences of Europe, the Industrial Age, and religion. Everything is connected along the bottom of the mural by a great river symbolizing change and growth.
The mural's unveiling at HemisFair '68 marked a shift in San Antonio's history, transforming its cultural landscape from one of Spanish colonial settlement and antebellum America into a crossroads of many cultures. Juan O'Gorman tells the story of how a Mexican artist created one of the Southwest's most important works of public art.