What is it?
The Miguel Lerdo de Tejada Library is an impressive feat of architecture, but even more impressive is its large-scale mural, covering 2000 square meters. The library, one of Mexico’s most important resources for financial records and heritage book collections, houses psychedelic frescoes that tell the story of revolutionary scenes throughout history.
Mexicans love their murals and they are used to decorate public buildings. As such, it is no surprise that the library is also adorned with a magnificent mural. The mural painted by Jewish/Russian/Mexican muralist Vlady Kibalchich Rusakov (1920-2005), known as Vlady in Mexico, is a representation of his particular style, which was a reinvention of the muralismo movement in Mexico.
Vlady was inspired by fluid rhythms, Venetian colors, stark precision and Hieronymus Bosch (1450-1516), which made his mural art very unique at the time.
The Miguel Lerdo de Tejada Library is located in what was formerly the Oratory of San Felipe Neri, a 17th-century church in Mexico City. Its murals were appointed by then Mexican president Luis Echeverría Álvarez in 1972 and Rusakov worked on them for about ten years.
The frescoes were mostly executed on the wall while the arches of the gates were painted on, with other works installed in a mezzanine. Rusakov, inspired by his many experiences and interests, did not limit the painting to Mexican art but also touched on international historical events.
Indeed, he also included the Freudian Revolution, which is the 20th Century sexual revolution. With revolution at its heart, the mural is called Las revoluciones y los elementos, which means The revolutions and the elements. Vlady later called the work my revolutionary Sistine chapel1.
When Vlady started to work on the murals, he began with the chapel. He painted a psychedelic mural depicting Freud and the sexual revolution before exploring other revolutionary movements from America, France, and Russia.
What made his murals astonishing was not just the revolutionary ideas depicted but also the textured details. It was an undertaking that took ten years and the colors, references, revolutionary figures and swirling forms are an impressive sight.
The artwork consists of four panels. Right from the entrance and further into the building are depictions of Falling Angel, a nude human male figure falling from blue heavens with wings drooping to the ground.
The East left wall features the Cromwell English Revolution followed by the Musical Revolution, the French Revolution and finally Latin American Revolutions. On the Western (right) wall, Vlady painted scenes showing the American Revolution, the Christian Revolution and the Russian Revolution.
Finally, on the South Wall that bridges the East and West walls, Vlady depicted a triptych that sums up the outcome of all the revolutions. This triptych is a recall of Hieronymus Bosch’s Last Judgement with its archetypical and Biblical images.
The panels were finally inaugurated in 1982 by President José López Portillo. The murals are in good condition. The library was renovated several times in the 2000s to keep moisture and other damaging elements out of the interior.
I wanted to make frescoes. A fresco is very difficult. It is the original form of painting. Everything that fixes color is there. On the wall, you no longer erase it. When I got down to work, a very strange, perhaps novel conception of the fresco came out. I believe that here there are a hundred different ways to paint with impossible colors that hold up better than the old ones. They are thirty years old, you can tell.
All in all, according to Vlady, the rebels are humans and throughout history, they have rebelled against the powers-that-be. However, revolutions often end in failure because humans tend to gravitate towards unchecked power and acquire arrogance.
Is there hope for people fighting for enlightenment and better governance? That is the question that the murals pose to viewers.