What happens to an artist’s legacy when it is controlled by a corporation? Luis Barragán was one of Mexico’s greatest architects—if not one of the 2oth century’s greatest. His colourful geometric buildings pepper Mexico, testaments to a modernist architecture that considered the poetry of light and space. It’s no wonder Brooklyn-based visual artist and filmmaker Jill Magid fell in love. But she wasn’t the only one. Following Barragán’s death in 1988, his personal archive remained in Mexico, where his home and studio in the capital comprise a UNESCO World Heritage Site. But his professional archive—thousands of documents including sketches, models and notes—were bought by a Swiss furniture design company as a gift to its owner’s then-fiancée—and Barragán admirer—Federica Zanco. Since 1995, Zanco has guarded the archives (as well as the rights to Barragán’s name and work) possessively, all but refusing public access.
The Proposal is billed as a “post-mortem love triangle” and the description is apt. While a central focus of the film is the often-obsessive love one may hold for a cherished artist, Barragán is not the only love object in view. In the opening frames, we hear Magid reading aloud a letter she has addressed to “Dearest Federica,” describing the relationship they have built at a distance over three years of correspondence, united by Barragán but divided by their respective desires: Magid for repatriation of the documents to Mexico and Federica determined to hold onto them. It is a love letter of sorts—one of many Magid has sent Federica in an epistolary cat-and-mouse game, imploring her to consider her request.
What follows is one of the most fascinating and unusual projects in recent art history, and an elegant, hypnotic thriller full of richly layered questions concerning the politics of death, ownership, and capitalism’s testy relationship to art. Magid’s final titular proposal to Federica (documented in two New Yorker articles) is an offer that has alternately been called “morbid” and “ingenious”. It is undoubtedly, however, a work of art in itself—unorthodox and controversial, but also beautiful and oddly, but fittingly, romantic. The film is part of this same conceptual work, another piece in the puzzle Magid has constructed around Barragán’s legacy: personal, intimate and elegiac, allowing us to consider the myriad ways narratives are constructed, both in life and after it.
The Proposal runs from September 6 to 12, 2019 at Vancity Theatre, 1181 Seymour Street, Vancouver, B.C.
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