Orozco's Mexican murals travel to L.A. thanks to a bit of visual magic

When Laura Ayala arrived in Los Angeles on Tuesday from Guadalajara, Mexico, she was greeted by pouring rain and steely gray skies instead of Southern California sunshine.

“Too much the Orozco spirit,” she said with a laugh.

Ayala is the exhibition and education director at MUSA, the Museum of the Arts at the University of Guadalajara. She knows the work of Mexican muralist José Clemente Orozco well. Two of his frescoes — “Man Creator and Rebel” and “The People and Their False Leaders” — adorn the walls and domed ceiling of the museum where she works, telling their grim tales in bleak grays that pop against angry reds.

This week a video projection of Orozco’s MUSA murals are on display in downtown Los Angeles as part of the L.A. Art Show, which opens Wednesday night and runs through Sunday at the L.A. Convention Center.

The installation, “Metaphysical Orozco,” is an audio-visual exploration of the details of the MUSA murals using layered video mapping to project the work in vibrant, animated form. The piece is presented as part of DIVERSEartLA, a section of the L.A. Art Show curated by Marisa Caichiolo.

According to Caichiolo, DIVERSEartLA is part of an attempt by the organizers of the L.A. Art Show to bring a less commercial, more museum-driven element to the annual fair. This is her second year curating the project.

“It’s a little aside from the galleries and the commercial world,” she says. “One of the things I’ve been trying to do with the L.A. Art Show fair for the last three and a half years is to create this area which can engage the community and embrace the museums and nonprofits with special projects, performances and installations.”

Caichiolo sees “Metaphysical Orozco” as a good fit for her mission. Orozco, David Alfaro Siqueiros and Diego Rivera made up Los Tres Grandes of Mexican muralism. Orozco’s work was intended to engage the public.

In contrast to some of Rivera’s more familiar, festive murals, Orozco’s paintings tackle subjects like oppression and corruption and feature gaunt, oppressed figures and hellish fire.

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“I think Orozco is a little difficult to swallow,” Ayala said. “It’s not something you will buy a poster to have in your house. Rivera you can hang in the kitchen.”

Southern Californians have unique access to one of Orozco’s works. Painted at Pomona College in 1930 and still on display, “Prometheus” was the first of his murals painted in the United States.

But the Guadalajara murals, created during the 1930s, are considered Orozco’s greatest masterpieces. And it is those works that Caichiolo and Ayala wanted to bring to the United States for the first time as part of DIVERSEartLA.

“But how do you take a mural outside of a building? How do you make that mural travel? I think it is fascinating how technology and science can help us do that,” Caichiolo says.

Ayala and her team in Guadalajara used video mapping to create an animated projection of the two Musa murals. They are not exact replicas. Instead they are up-close, moving examinations of Orozco’s work. The videos are animated: Arms move, flames lap and small details are purposefully brought to the forefront.

“That’s why we call it ‘Metaphysical Orozco,’” Ayala explains. “Because we are breaking the physical limits to bring these murals to California. There’s a feeling you get when you see these murals in person. You feel you are inside them. So we are trying to re-create that emotion.”

To accompany the video projections, Ayala chose music by a contemporary of Orozco: experimental Mexican composer Julían Carrillo’s “Prelude to Christopher Columbus.”

The music, which incorporates microtonal sounds and is scored for soprano, flute, guitar, violin, octavina and harp, elicits a dark, eerie beauty that is similar to Orozco’s aesthetic. It is a fitting accompaniment to a rainy day or a trip inside a dramatic 80-year-old work of art.

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L.A. Art Show

Where: L.A. Convention Center, South Hall, 1201 S. Figueroa St.

When: Opening night gala 6-11 p.m. Wednesday, show 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday

Tickets: $125-$250 opening night, $25-$30 one-day show pass, $55-$60 four-day pass

Info: www.laartshow.com

See all of our latest arts news and reviews at latimes.com/arts.

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