Tribute For Manuel Felguérez, Mexican Abstract Artist, Is Dead at 91

This obituary is part of a series about people who have died in the coronavirus pandemic. Read about others here.

Before he became one of the most important artists in Mexico, Manuel Felguérez built an eclectic résumé. He provided live bats to a lucha libre wrestler as props during bouts. He sold ancient Mexican artifacts to pay his way to Europe. He amassed a menagerie that included a tiger, a fox, lizards, a hawk and a black widow spider, then learned taxidermy so that he could preserve the animals when they died.

“That was, without my knowing, my first lesson in sculpture,” Mr. Felguérez said in a 2003 interview with the newspaper Reforma.

He died of the novel coronavirus on June 7 at his home in Mexico City, Plinio Ávila, an artist and family friend, said. He was 91.

Mr. Felguérez decided to become an artist during his first trip to Europe, after drawing a scene on the River Thames in England from a boat, he said. He became known for abstract, geometric paintings and metal sculptures, joining a movement that broke from the realism of Mexican muralists like Diego Rivera, who often used the Mexican Revolution or the plight of the masses as their themes.

“His work was only about enjoying the search for beauty and harmony,” Mr. Ávila said. “He obviously wasn’t aiming to create paintings that were shocking or vibrant, but rather something pleasurable.”

Manuel Felguérez was born on Dec. 12, 1928, in Valparaíso, in the north-central state of Zacatecas, as Mexico was emerging from more than a decade of revolution and civil unrest. He told the magazine Mexico Desconocido that one of his earliest memories was of a battle between fighters defending his father’s hacienda and workers trying to claim the land as their own. The workers eventually overpowered their adversaries.

He moved to Mexico City with his family when he was 7 so that his father could petition the federal government to be compensated for the lost property. A year later his father fell ill and died.

Mr. Felguérez studied in Paris at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière, an art school, and with the Russian-born sculptor Ossip Zadkine. He was later a professor at the Ibero-American University and the National Autonomous University of Mexico, both in Mexico City. As a visiting researcher at Harvard University in the 1970s, he began using computer programming to create art.

His marriage to Ruth Rohde ended in divorce. His second wife, the artist Lilia Carrillo, died in 1974. He is survived by his two children with Ms. Rohde, Karina and Patricia Felguérez Rohde, and his third wife, Mercedes Oteyza de Felguérez.

Alfonso Vázquez, the director of the Zacatecan Institute of Culture, remembered touring an exhibition with Mr. Felguérez several years ago. When someone from a group of visitors asked Mr. Felguérez how to interpret one of his hulking metal sculptures on view, he paused to consider the question, Mr. Vázquez recalled, then told the group, “For me, it signifies two years of work.”

“He was trying to say that we shouldn’t look for meaning behind art,” Mr. Vázquez said. “The work moves you or it provokes you — but it speaks to you.”

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