The L.A. architecture critic who helped bring the story of Mexican design to the U.S.

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Esther McCoy at work in Santa Monica in the 1980s.
Esther McCoy at work in Santa Monica in the 1980s.

Esther McCoy is best known as the architecture writer who helped shape the story of Modernism in Los Angeles. Less known is the nearly year-long period she spent in Mexico in 1951. During this time, she wrote about key architectural developments in the country — such as the early designs of Mexican Modernist Luis Barragán and the construction of the National Autonomous University in Mexico City, the iconic campus designed by Mario Pani and Enrique del Moral that is now a UNESCO World Heritage site.

A small exhibition at the Museo Jumex in Mexico City, on view through Sunday, examines this period in McCoy’s life, when she settled in the city of Cuernavaca for nearly eight months. There, she became good friends with photographer Lola Alvarez Bravo and artist Helen O’Gorman, the botanist and painter who was known for her delicate depictions of Mexican flora — and for being the wife of famed muralist Juan O’Gorman.

“Cuernavaca was called the ‘City of Eternal Spring,’” says exhibition co-curator Jose Esparza Chong Cuy, who is based at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. “It was a time when a lot of left-wing and radical thinkers were spending time in Cuernavaca. A lot of Americans were there.”

The exhibition, titled “Passersby 02: Esther McCoy,” is part of a series at the Museo Jumex that looks at the ways in which foreign cultural figures have engaged with Mexican culture and history.

“The show presents [McCoy] as this kind of bridge,” says Esparza, “from L.A. to Mexico and from Mexico to L.A.” […]

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