Mathias Goeritz

Cross in a Box, Project for a Cathedral


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Not on display

Mathias Goeritz 1915–1990
Original title
Cruz en la Caja, projecto para una catedral
Wood, gesso, gold leaf, paint, brass, steel and magnets
Object: 718 × 559 × 80 mm
Lent by Tate Americas Foundation, courtesy of the Latin American Acquisitions Committee 2015
On long term loan


Cross in a Box, Project for a Cathedral 1960–1 is a sculptural object comprising six wooden panels. The panels are hinged and bevelled so that the object can be opened, forming a cross shape, or closed to make a box. Gold leaf has been applied to the interior surfaces of the panels, a material that Mathias Goeritz also used in his series of panel-paintings and reliefs Messages 1958–62, which included works produced as altars as well as for domestic settings (see, for example, Message c.1959, Tate T13442). When laid flat the cruciform shape of Cross in a Box, Project for a Cathedral resembles a simplified building footprint, particularly the layout of a Christian cathedral with its nave, transept, choir and apse. A conical spike protrudes from the centre of each panel of the object, so that when the panels are folded-up, the spikes meet almost exactly at the centre. As such, when the box is fully closed the spikes form another cross, but one that remains invisible to the viewer.

This object belongs to a series of works produced by Goeritz after 1958 that were informed by his concept of ‘emotional architecture’, which sought to create structures that would have a profound effect on the viewer. It was made at a time when Goeritz was developing his interest in religious art as a mode of resistance to what he perceived as a general state of decadence in the art world at the time, and in response to personal tragedy (the death from cancer in 1958 of his wife Marianne Gast, from whom he had recently been divorced). Although Goeritz had been interested in religious themes such as the cross and the divine hand throughout his career – particularly after his arrival in Mexico from Germany in 1949 – these later works pursued a different brand of mysticism as expressed in his manifesto ‘L’art Prière contre l’art merde’. In this manifesto, published on the occasion of his exhibition at the Iris Clert Gallery in Paris in 1960, he protested against individualism, materialism, intellectual egocentrism, rationalism, trends and the art world in general, to propose l’art prière (prayer art) as the antidote to vanity and ambition. This was an art of the ideal and the mystic, of love and belief, of form and colour as expressions of adoration, of the metaphysical power of the monochrome and of emotional experience. Goeritz described his works as a form of ‘plastic prayer’. This religiosity was also evident in a number of assemblage objects that he created in the early 1960s called Monstrances, which resembled Mexican votive objects, candles and crucifixes, made from industrial metal objects and cast in bronze. Cross in a Box, Project for a Cathedral connects these objects to Goeritz’s gold monochromes and highlights his interest in dada, surrealism and expressionism.

Shown between 1960 and 1961 in different galleries – Galería de Arte Mexicano in Mexico City, Carstairs Gallery in New York and Iris Clert Gallery in Paris – Goeritz’s gold leaf works of the late 1950s and early 1960s were the subject of a controversy between Goeritz and the French artist Yves Klein. Klein produced his first Monogold painting in 1961 but had been the leading force in the revival of the monochrome in the 1950s. His use of gold sought to restore the aura to monochrome that had previously been stripped from it by the Russian artist Alexander Rodchenko’s Pure Red Colour, Pure Yellow Colour, Pure Blue Colour in 1921 (private collection). Goeritz was also interested in using gold to elicit a transcendental experience from the viewer. However, rather than make a break from Russian constructivism, he invoked it, particularly the concept of faktura voiced in the early years of the movement, first in Vladimir Markov’s text ‘Icon Painting’ from 1914, which stated that ‘through the resonance of the colours, the sound of the materials, the assemblage of textures (faktura) we call the people to beauty, to religion, to God’ (quoted in Benjamin Buchloh, ‘From Faktura to Factography’, October, no.30, Autumn 1984, pp.82–119). Goeritz’s relationship to Russian constructivism suggests a more complex vision of Mexican modernity.

Although he was born in Europe (in Danzig, now Gdansk, Poland, which in 1915 was part of the German Empire), Goeritz is considered one of the foremost artists of Mexican modernism. Schooled in philosophy and art history in Berlin, he moved to Morocco in the late 1930s, living there during the Second World War, and then to Spain, which he left for Mexico in 1949. During the 1950s Goeritz was an active participant in the Mexican cultural scene. He formed friendships and professional relationships with architects such as Juan O’Gorman, Mario Pani and Luis Barragán, and with artists such as Manuel Felguérez, the young Pedro Friedeberg (who was then Goeritz’s student), and the collector and painter Jesús ‘Chucho’ Reyes, among others. Although loosely associated with the Generación de la Ruptura in Mexico in the 1950s, which sought to propose alternatives to the socialist realism of the Mexican muralist painters who openly attacked Goeritz, he in fact distanced himself from that group, seeing his work as anchored in the tradition of dada and expressionism.

Another version of Cross in a Box, Project for a Cathedral is owned by the Instituto Cultural Cabañas in Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico.

Further reading
Olivia Zuñiga, Mathias Goeritz, Mexico City 1963.
Mathias Goeritz, Ida Rodriguez Prampolini, Ferruccio Asta and others, Los Ecos de Mathias Goeritz, exhibition catalogue, Antiguo Colegio de San Ildefonso and Instituto de Investigaciones Esteticas (UNAM), Mexico City 1997.
Osvaldo Sanchez Crespo, ‘Mathias Goeritz: The Ministries of Space’, in Rina Carvajal, Catherine David, aSuely Rolnik and others, The Experimental Exercise of Freedom: Lygia Clark, Gego, Mathias Goeritz, Helio Oiticica and Mira Schendel, exhibition catalogue, Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles 2000.

Tanya Barson and Julieta González
November 2014

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