Gerzso exhibit shows artist's mature works

Painter born in Mexico had varied upbringing

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Architecture, planning and design are all reflected in painter Gunther Gerzso's work. Works by the Mexican master painter are featured through Sept. 18 at the Museo de las Americas in the Santa Fe Arts District.

“Gunther Gerzso: a Mexican Master” is exhibited in a partnership with the Denver Art Museum (which is also showcasing some Gerzso paintings), the Consulado General de Mexico, the Mexican Cultural Center and Scientific and Cultural Facilities District. The exhibit is part of the Bicentennial of the Americas celebration in Denver this summer.

The Museo displays 28 works on paper, four sculptures and two art books celebrating Gerzso's evolutionary career and showcasing an especially creative mature period.

The exhibit was curated by Museo director Maruca Salazar.

Gerzso's works are suggestive of the stone walls and architecture of the Mayans and Aztecs, with colors from the Mexican palette. His early works with costumed figures and suggested stage-set backgrounds evolved into architectural/abstract work in his later years.

He was born in 1915 in Mexico City to Dora Wendland, a German born in Berlin, and Oscar Gerzso, a Hungarian businessman who emigrated to Mexico in the 1890s and died in 1916.

When Gunther was 12, he was sent to live with his uncle, Dr. Hans Wedland in Switzerland, an art dealer, art historian and collector. His uncle took over directing the boy's education with the idea that he would become the heir to a large estate.

The boy attended Swiss schools, had intensive training in art history and met important European art figures such as Paul Klee and the Italian set designer Nando Tamberlani, who inspired his later interest in stage set and film set design.

In the 1930s Depression, his uncle lost possession of his estate and the young man returned to Mexico City to live with his mother and sister, attending the German school there and starting to design costumes and theater sets.

In 1935, he moved to Cleveland to study at the Cleveland Playhouse, where he became staff set designer. By 1940, he was teaching himself to paint and was married to California musician Gene Rilla Cady, who was also studying at the playhouse.

The pair moved to Mexico and Gerzso tried to paint full time, but with finances uncertain, he started to design sets for movies — about 250 films in the next 20 years.

Influences of pre-Columbian art and surrealism influenced his work. He retired in 1962 to paint full time, was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship and the National Prize of Mexico. (He did come out of retirement in 1983 to design sets for John Houston's film based on Malcolm Lowry's famous novel, “Under the Volcano.”)

He died April 21, 2000, in Mexico City, according to a biography from Mary-Anne Martin's Fine Art Catalog “Gunther Gerzso 80th Birthday Show” 1995, New York.

If you go

“Gunther Gerzso: Mexican Master” will be exhibited through Sept. 18 at the Museo de las Americas, 861 Santa Fe Drive, Denver. During the time of the companion exhibit at the Denver Art Museum, members of each museum will receive half-price admission to the other. Museo hours: noon to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays; $5 general admission; 303-571-4401.

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