Mathias Goeritz



Not on display

Mathias Goeritz 1915–1990
Original title
Gold leaf on plywood panel
Support: 1219 × 1393 mm
Purchased with funds provided by the American Fund for the Tate Gallery, courtesy of the Latin American Acquisitions Committee and Boris Hirmas Said in honor of the Prieto Sánchez Mejorada family 2012


Message c.1959 is a painting on wood panel in which overlapping areas of gold leaf have been applied over a dark red ground. It was commissioned by the Mexican lawyer Eduardo Prieto López for his house in El Pedregal, a suburb of Mexico City, designed and developed by architect Luis Barragán in the late 1940s and 1950s. Barragán designed the house and both Goeritz and the painter Jesús Reyes made a series of works for it; a testimony to the longstanding collaboration between Barragán, Goeritz and Reyes, all of whom were instrumental in the formation of Mexican modernism in art and architecture.

The painting belongs to a series of works known collectively as the Messages (in Spanish, Mensajes), which were produced by Goeritz after 1958 and informed by his concept of ‘emotional architecture’. Goeritz’s work was also shaped by his resistance to what he perceived as a general state of decadence in the art world at the time and his interest in religious art, something he was able to pursue in more depth after his arrival in Mexico from Europe in 1949. The series of Messages was also marked by personal tragedy (the death from cancer of his recently divorced wife Marianne Gast in 1958). Thus, Goeritz embarked on a series of paintings that returned to his interest in religious art, which he had made manifest in earlier works dealing with the theme of the cross and the divine hand. However, these later works pursued a different brand of mysticism, expressed by the artist in his manifesto ‘L’Art prière contre l’art merde’, which was published on the occasion of his exhibition at the Iris Clert Gallery in Paris in 1960. In it, he protests against individualism, materialism, intellectual egocentrism, rationalism, trends and the art world in general, proposing ‘l’art prière’ (prayer art) as the antidote to vanity and ambition. Goeritz defined ‘prayer art’ as an art of the ideal and the mystic, of love and belief, of form and colour as expression of adoration, and of metaphysical and emotional experience.

Shown between 1960 and 1962 in different galleries (Galería de Arte Mexicano in Mexico City, Carstairs Gallery in New York and Iris Clert Gallery in Paris) the Messages were the subject of a controversy between Goeritz and French artist Yves Klein over the disputed origins of the painted monochrome. It was a dispute that selectively disregarded the early monochromes of Soviet constructivism. Klein produced his first monogold painting in 1961 but had been the leading force in the revival of the monochrome in the 1950s (see, for example, IKB 79 1959, Tate T01513), restoring to it the mystical aura of which it had been previously stripped by Aleksandr Rodchenko’s monochrome canvases Pure Red Colour, Pure Yellow Colour, Pure Blue Colour in 1921 (Moscow, private collection). At the same time, Goeritz invoked the concerns of faktura (textures) voiced in the early years of Russian constructivism, first in Vladimir Markov’s essay ‘Icon Painting’ (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, p.86). This conception soon shifted to a concern with the means of production of the work, emphasizing the ‘mechanical quality, the materiality, and the anonimity of the painterly procedure’ (Buchloh 1984, p.87, note 6). According to art historian Francisco Reyes Palma, Goeritz was also inspired by László Moholy Nagy’s (1895–1946) recourse to the telephone as a means for the production of pictorial works. Goeritz himself produced a series of gold leaf paintings giving instructions to a carpenter and a gold leaf artisan over the telephone (see Francisco Reyes Palma, ‘Oratorio monocromático. Los hartos’, in Rodríguez Prampolini and Asta 1997, pp.121–30). Both this episode and Goeritz’s manifesto ‘L’Art prière’ establish the constructivist genealogies of his gold monochromes, including Message c.1959.

Born in Poland and trained as an art historian in Berlin, Goeritz left Europe for Mexico in 1949. During the 1950s he was an active participant in the Mexican cultural scene, forming friendships and professional relationships with numerous architects and artists. Although loosely associated with the Generación de la Ruptura in the 1950s, which sought to propose alternatives to the socialist realist aesthetic of the Mexican muralist painters, in fact Goeritz distanced himself from that group of artists. Instead, he saw his work as anchored in the tradition of dada and expressionism. As well as making paintings, Goeritz conceived a number of large-scale sculptural and architectural projects, most notably the Museo Experimental del Eco of 1953, the embodiment of his notion of ‘emotional architecture’.

Further reading
Ida Rodríguez Prampolini and Ferrucio Asta (eds.), Los Ecos de Mathias Goeritz; Ensayos y testimonios, Mexico City 1997.

Julieta González
May 2011

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Display caption

Message was commissioned by attorney Eduardo Prieto López for his house in Mexico City, designed by architect Luis Barragán. It follows Goeritz’s concept of ‘emotional architecture’, rejecting functionalism to create spaces that enable an emotional response. His works around this time have a mystical character, reflecting his interest in religious art, his rejection of decadence, and his response to the death of his wife Marianne Gast in 1958. However, Goeritz also wanted to emphasise the mechanical quality, materiality, and anonymity of painting, and this work was constructed by a carpenter and a gold leaf artisan who were given instructions by the artist on the telephone.

Gallery label, July 2015

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