A new monograph on the work of internationally renowned Mexican interior and furniture designer Gloria Cortina has been released by Rizzoli that we find intriguing for two reasons. First, it furthers what we are seeing as a trend—a fascination with all things Mexico—and second, when we made our way through its pages, the thought came, “Something ancient lurks in this book’s pages.” We illustrate this book review with images of her interiors of residences from Cabo San Lucas to New York City and Colorado to her beloved Mexico City.
Gloria Cortina Explores Myth and Modernity
The title of the book is Gloria Cortina: Interiors, Modernity & Myth, and it explores Cortina’s unique approach to design that is shaped by the visions of Mexican masters such as Diego Rivera and Luis Barragán. It also seeks to consolidate European and modernist influences with Mexico’s arts and crafts heritage. Her pieces featured in the book are realized with luxurious materials like tropical wood, stone, textured metal, and rich textiles, each sourced both locally and worldwide.
Sean Kelly kicks off his foreword with this quote by Aristotle: “The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance.” Kelly then says, “The book you are holding in your hands is the first major monograph published on the work of Mexican designer, Gloria Cortina. In many respects it is a mirror, one that contains and reflects an overview of her diverse, culturally rich, and deep oeuvre.” He notes that there are references to Aztec symbols, such as feathers, mirrors, water, and reflections, each of which abound in her work. The supreme Aztec deity Tezcatlipoca has a presence in the book, as does the culture’s belief that mirrors are doorways to other worlds.
But, Kelly cautions, it is important to pay close attention to the quieter relationships she conjures: “the aura of the object, the conjunction and elision of disparate materials and, importantly, the space between things, the arena of Modernism and Minimalism.” The career of this distinguished designer spans architecture, interior design, sculptural objects, and furniture. Her work employs traditional Mexican techniques and materials, such as metalwork, lacquer, cochinilla, ziricote, and obsidian. Though these are time-honored, she reimagines them in ways those who came before her could not have done.
“In doing so,” writes Kelly, “she creates luxurious and seductive environments.” He adds, “Gloria Cortina’s work is her personal mirror, intuitive, elegant, understated, intelligent, and aesthetically refined. Patience, discipline, and restraint are deployed to create a unique body of work of great sophistication, power, and allure, which emotionally mines the past yet firmly orients us to the future.” In the pages that follow his deserved praise, an image that flows with filigrees of sand along a coastline, which are as delicately formed as layered lace, is enlivened by this excerpt from Popal Vuh, “This is the account of when all is still silent and placid. All is silent and calm. Hushed and empty is the womb of the sky.”
The Popal Vuh is a foundational sacred narrative of the ancient K’iche’ people of Mexico that was highly influential in Mayan mythology. The mottled metal of one of Cortina’s pieces of furniture segues to the stippled surfaces of Mayan ruins. Jay Merrick, who wrote the text for the rest of the book, declares, “Light and shadow are the most primal factors in architecture and interior design. They bring edges and surfaces and spaces to life. They create different kinds of atmosphere.” The great Louis Kahn is quoted as saying, “Silence to Light. Light to Silence, the threshold of their crossing is the Singularity, is Inspiration…is the Sanctuary of Art, is the Treasury of the Shadows.”
Intermingled with images of Cortina’s design projects are studies of her products broken into chapters titled Reflection, Matter, Feather, Gesamtkunstwerk, and Constellation. In each, she pushes materials to reflect capricious and emotional personalities they would not have had without a visionary mind to guide them. Many of her products fall into the category of Collectible Design for this reason. Cortina leads a team of around fifty makers to achieve the character she is driven to demonstrate. Metals turn from gritty to gleaming, stone from densely veined to luminous, wood from finely grained to elaborately patterned. The entire book is a feast for the senses and we highly recommend it. The editors of Design Diary received a free copy of this book, though this in no way influenced our opinions expressed here. If you’d like to support Indy bookstores, you can buy the title on bookshop.org.