Curated and designed by architect Frida Escobedo, the exhibition No. 9 explores the history of La Ruta de la Amistad (“Route of Friendship”) in Mexico City, a monumental public sculpture project that was launched as part of the cultural program for the 1968 Olympics. Presenting archival research and a new sculptural installation, the exhibition probes the optimism and underlying contradictions of this ambitious convergence of artistic vision, urban development, and international diplomacy.
Sited along an eleven-mile stretch of Mexico City’s then burgeoning highway system, La Ruta de la Amistad comprised a network of nineteen monumental sculptures, or “stations,” by artists from seventeen countries. German-born Mexican artist Mathias Goeritz served as artistic advisor of the 1968 Olympic Organizing Committee and was director of La Ruta. His open-ended brief called for the sculptures to be abstract, made of concrete, and monumental in size, since they would be experienced from the perspective of a moving car. Upon completion, each was painted in bright colors. The multinational and modernist aesthetics of La Ruta’s sculptures amplified government efforts to present Mexico as a thriving, cosmopolitan nation on the global stage of the Olympics — the first games hosted by a Latin American country. Since then, many of the sculptures have been moved as part of a heritage initiative, and the “Route of Friendship” now only exists in the collective imagination.
Responding to the American context of the Arthur Ross Gallery exhibition, Escobedo mines the history of the ninth station of La Ruta by artist Todd Williams (b. 1939), who represented the United States in the international sculpture project. No. 9 presents archival construction photographs and documents, and uses these as a basis to reconstruct the underlying steel skeleton of Williams’ original sculpture. The new sculpture is further contextualized through items from the artist’s personal archive, including photographs, ephemera, and correspondence. Collectively, these items allow Escobedo to propose an alternative, more intimate interpretation of the official narrative of La Ruta, uncovering the hidden processes and exchanges that brought the project into being, while also raising timely and complex questions about the role of art and architecture in the construction of national and political identity, and international relations. (Text courtesy GSAPP Exhibitions, Columbia University)