Sited along an eleven-mile stretch of Mexico City’s then burgeoning highway system, La Ruta de la Amistad comprised a network of nineteen monumental sculptures, or “stations,” by artists from seventeen countries. German-born Mexican artist Mathias Goeritz served as artistic advisor of the 1968 Olympic Organizing Committee and was director of La Ruta. His open-ended brief called for the sculptures to be abstract, made of concrete, and monumental in size, since they would be experienced from the perspective of a moving car. Upon completion, each was painted in bright colors. The multinational and modernist aesthetics of La Ruta’s sculptures amplified government efforts to present Mexico as a thriving, cosmopolitan nation on the global stage of the Olympics — the first games hosted by a Latin American country. Since then, many of the sculptures have been moved as part of a heritage initiative, and the “Route of Friendship” now only exists in the collective imagination.
Responding to the American context of the Ross Gallery exhibition, Escobedo mines the history of the ninth station of La Ruta by artist Todd Williams (b. 1939), who represented the United States in the international sculpture project. No. 9 presents archival construction photographs and documents, and uses these as a basis to reconstruct the underlying steel skeleton of Williams’ original sculpture. The new sculpture is further contextualized through items from the artist’s personal archive, including photographs, ephemera, and correspondence. Collectively, these items allow Escobedo to propose an alternative, more intimate interpretation of the official narrative of La Ruta, uncovering the hidden processes and exchanges that brought the project into being, while also raising timely and complex questions about the role of art and architecture in the construction of national and political identity, and international diplomacy.
No. 9 is curated and designed by Frida Escobedo, and organized by Irene Sunwoo, GSAPP Director of Exhibitions. Archival material is on loan from the Archivo Arquitecto Pedro Ramírez Vázquez, who served as Chairman of the Organizing Committee of the 1968 Olympics, and from the personal archive of artist Todd Williams. Graphic design for the exhibition is by Estudio Herrera, Mexico City.
The presentation of No. 9 at the Arthur Ross Architecture Gallery coincides with a related project by Frida Escobedo: a full-scale reimagining of the sixteenth “station” of La Ruta by French sculptor Olivier Séguin. Titled No. 16, the project is part of the Orléans Architecture Biennale in Orléans, France, which opens October 13, 2017.