The personal archives of Mexican Modernist architect Luis Barragán reside at the Fundación de Arquitectura Tapatía Luis Barragán in Mexico City while his professional archives dwell across the Atlantic in Switzerland. This latter collection was purchased by the Swiss furniture company Vitra in 1995 at the behest of the newly created Barragan Foundation, headed by Federica Zanco, an architectural historian married to Vitra’s president. Zanco has also acquired Barragán’s design copyrights and the archives of his official photographer, Armando Salas Portugal, and is working toward creating a complete catalogue raisonné of the architect’s oeuvre. 
Zanco has come under criticism for how closely she guards the rights to these collections. Image and book production of Barragán’s work are strictly controlled, to the point that visitors to Barragán’s home in Mexico City can only photograph the house with the permission of the Foundation. That is, even though the Casa Luis Barragán is not owned by the Foundation, reproductions of it (even amateur photographs) are. In a post-colonial era where the art world is dealing with calls for repatriation of artworks to their original countries and cultures, the division of Barragán’s collections brings this issue into the archive world as well.
Enter Jill Magid. An author and performance artist from Brooklyn interested in systems of power, Magid initiated a project (ongoing) called The Barragán Archives, in which she explores the social and political tensions of an archive geographically, culturally, and legally divided. As part of this project, Magid fashioned the Art in General exhibition Woman with Sombrero in New York. With the help of a copyright consultant, she artfully navigated the Barragan Foundation’s denial of rights for images or works on loan.
In a creative and provocative dance around copyright, Magid included photographs and ephemera from Barragán’s personal archives in Mexico City, email correspondence between Zanco and herself (displayed on an iPad because Zanco did not permit the message to be printed), enlarged-to-life-size photographs of Barragán’s furniture (in place of the real objects), and framed images from books already printed with the books hanging outside the frame.
An accompanying performance piece, Woman with Sombrero, Women with Sombrero, featured Magid reading an ironic love letter (an appropriation from Barragán’s personal archive) reimagined as a letter from herself to Zanco while photographs from Barragán’s personal archive were projected onto her. Additional performers portrayed Juan Palomar of the Fundación in Mexico City and Daniel McClean, Magid’s copyright lawyer. Palomar’s character read from a letter lamenting the “cultural neutrality” of the Barragan Foundation’s alteration from an “á” to an “a” in the spelling of the architect’s name. The actor playing McClean read from Magid’s real legal consult transcripts and countered Magid’s pointed questions about fair use and copyright while she gested in question, “Is performance fair use?”
In my last post, I discussed some of the ways personal and studio archives can function for artists and how they’re growing in importance as data and material multiply in today’s information age, i.e. how an archive is beneficial. In this post, I introduce this case study on Luis Barragán’s archives to raise and contextualize some issues of legacy, audience, and access, i.e. how curation of an archive is beneficial.
While much of the conflict with Barragán’s archives has to do with its divisive placement and copyright holdings, it’s also a very impassioned study of legacy. Anne Barlow, the curator who worked with Magid at Art in General, identified the “key questions” of the exhibit as exploring “ownership, access, what is public and private, national identity and repatriation” through an artist’s legacy.
Art is an exceptional vocation in that it allows a person to dedicate his/her work and life to the creation of meaning and make a tangible contribution to the documented artistic (as well as social, political, etc.) culture of the time. It’s important for the artist to remember here that:
- Oblivion is not inevitable (indeed, it’s unlikely given our expanding modes of memory-keeping).
- The artist’s role in the future doesn’t have to be a passive one. You can actively engage in the creation and curation of your own legacy.
- Your legacy exists even as you do. It’s not just an after-you’re-gone insurance setup for finding your materials. It’s a concerted, concurrent compilation of your work, accomplishments, and goals.
With these three things in mind, I hope it’s clear how the curation of your legacy matters. Your work, your materials, your inspirations may likely stand to represent not only your personal aesthetic endeavors and editorial perspectives but also the people and practices of your time, now and in the future. Gallery owners, exhibit curators, scholars, and fellow artists may want to use your materials in a month, a year, or fifty years.
What the Barragán case illuminates is the importance of intentional archiving (as well as the necessity for respecting that archive – notably, Magid hired translators to ensure that her readings of Barragán’s Spanish letters didn’t miss nuanced language differences). I have not been able to find documentation on Barragán’s personal agency in choosing who was to yield control of these archives after his death in 1988 — which just reinforces the importance that the artist be active in his/her legacy, making conscious and informed decisions, to avoid this kind of divisive battleground.
That being said, the conversations Woman with Sombrero initiated about identity and ownership of art wouldn’t have manifested in such a way had Barragán’s materials not been settled into these archival collections. The fact alone that his work is organized and public enables this kind of continued dialogue of his work. While his architecture continues to grace the skyline of Mexico City, influencing the city and design, his life’s work can now manifest in a new capacities and in new conversations.
 Anne Barlow, “Jill Magid’s Woman with Sombrero: A Poetic Interrogation of Artistic Legacy,” Journal of Curatorial Studies 3, no. 2 & 3 (2014): 374.
 Colby Chamberlain, “Jill Magid,” Artforum International 52, no. 6 (02, 2014): 218.
 Kylie Gilchrist, “Jill Magid Explores Architect’s Contested Legacy,” Art in America, November 13, 2013, 68, accessed April 2, 2015, http://www.artinamericamagazine.com/news-features/news/jill-magid-explores-architects-contested-legacy/.
 Barlow, 376.
 Ibid., 374.