A rare example of late Mexican School muralism in Austin will be covered up when a medical office building undergoes a renovation.
“The Origins of Medicine,” a 29-by-9-foot oil-on-canvas mural by Rafael Navarro Barajas is in the lobby of Medical Park Tower on W. 38th Street.
Navarro Barajas was commissioned to create the murals when the building was constructed in 1967. He painted the murals on canvas in his studio in Mexico City. They were then shipped to Austin where they were affixed to the lobby wall with an adhesive in 1968.
Word of the changes to the multi-panel mural’s situation emerged over the weekend when musician Sara Hickman, after seeing plans of the lobby redesign, posted to social media that the artwork would be destroyed.
A spokesperson for Chicago-based Lillibridge Healthcare Services, which owns and manages Medical Park Tower, said that the mural is not a part of “the updated design aesthetic of the building” for the lobby, and that the artwork would be encapsulated.
“We will be constructing a new wall in front of (the artwork) to accommodate the new interior finishes,” said Louise Adhikari. “Lillibridge is documenting this process during the construction project and will maintain the records related to these murals for the future.”
Beverly Adams, the Estrellita Brodsky Curator of Latin American Art at the Museum of Modern Art, learned of the mural a few years ago.
“As someone who both studied and worked in Austin, I hope there is a way to save this mural,” said Adams in an email. “It is a rare example of the late Mexican School painting in Austin. I believe this artwork deserves respect, attention, and research.”
Born in 1921 in the Mexican state of Jalisco, Navarro Barajas was of the generation of Mexican artists steeped from the start in the Mexican School of painting established by famed muralists Diego Rivera and José Clemente Orozco. The second generation of Mexican School painters continued with the heroic realism style often using imagery or references drawn from pre-Columbian culture. Navarro Barajas died in Mexico City in 1992.
Paintings conservator Mark van Gelder spent considerable time with the mural in 2006 and 2007, when he restored the paintings. He said that the canvas is too delicate to remove from the wall, but that it’s conceivable that the wall could be cut out.
“The mural can be removed, but it’s just a matter of determining what the best process for that is and how involved that process would be,” he said. “In any scenario it would be very complicated.”