Mid-Century and More
The Fuente de Petróleos is sometimes called the Fuente de Petróleos Mexicanos. The name as given by the creators is the Monument to the Petroleum Industry of Mexico (Monumento a la Industria Petrolera de México). It’s one of the sources of culture shock for international visitors and it’s not a monument that’s entirely easy to understand.
In fact, it’s only really visible now for a few moments when passing to the west on Paseo de la Reforma. This is a pity because like any good monument, examining its intended meaning and the tribute it pays to a Mexican industry, one needs to also dig into some of the culture and complexity that makes up the country and its capital city.
It’s a monument to the expropriation, that is, the nationalization of the Mexican petroleum industry. The work of architect Vicente Mendiola Quezada and sculptor Juan Fernando Olaguíbel Rosenzweig, it was built and presented to the public in 1952. The last of the glorietas, roundabouts, on Paseo de la Reforma, each of them have some type of public monument or sculpture, barring that called “la Palma.”
20th-Century Mexican Sculpture
Understanding monumental sculpture in Mexico, particularly until about 1960, begins with an understanding of the Mexican Revolution, and especially the relative instability that resulted from such a sweeping movement. This helps to explain the muralist movement in painting, too.
One needs to carefully examine the socialist realism of the Soviet Union, and in the many countries within its sphere of influence. 19th-century Academic movements—and their heavy use of allegory—is also important to an understanding of the State, especially a young post-revolutionary state. Such a state has a keen interest in ideological expression in art and that is very much in play in much of the sculpture of this period.
The Fuente de Petróleos was originally in a traffic roundabout where a gas station had stood for a good half a century. Overcoming the unevenness of the terrain required some significant architectural ingenuity. The monument includes multiple fountains superimposed over one another and an enormous pillar that bears a sculpted allegorical group of figures.
Several of these represent Mexican economic liberation through the 1938 nationalization of the oil industry. At 55 meters in diameter and 18 meters tall, the sculpture is cast in 18 tons of bronze.
Both Mendiola and Olaguíbel, are represented as figures within the sculptural group. With some common 19th-century allegories, spoked wheels to symbolize the pace of progress, cogs and gears to identify industry, are evident. Victory is shown without wings, naked, and triumphant, at the highest point.
This tradition of commemorative sculpture was both an inheritance from and the continuity of 19th-century art. Today placed at a dizzying busy intersection, the fountain can almost not be glimpsed.
It won’t be a popularly visited monument now, nor likely in the future. But understanding it does give one an exceptional insight into mid-century Mexico, and its ongoing reverberations.