The Tale of the Architect and the Engagement Ring
In yesterday’s blog post, I wrote about the importance of carefully considering a testator’s intellectual property when preparing a Will. For readers who are interested in this topic, I would highly recommend a recent article in the New Yorker by Alice Gregory, entitled “The Architect Who Became a Diamond.”
The article tells the story of Luis Barragán, a famous Mexican architect who passed away in 1988. In his Will, Mr. Barragán divided his archive of architectural work between two individuals. According to the article, his business partner, Raul Ferrera, was bequeathed “all author rights and documents, movies, drawings, designs, sketches, mockups, and originals of work.”
After Mr. Ferrera committed suicide in 1993, his widow became the owner of Mr. Barragán’s vast archive. The archive was eventually sold for three million dollars to an architectural historian named Federica Zanco and her spouse. As the story goes, the archive was purchased for Ms. Zanco as an engagement gift by her fiancé, in lieu of the more traditional engagement ring.
Ms. Zanco went on to found the Barragan Foundation, and the Foundation also purchased the photographs taken by Mr. Barragán’s official photographer. At first, many thought that Mr. Barragán’s archive would be well-served under the ownership of a scholar like Ms. Zanco.
However, as the article notes, “[r]esearchers have been denied access, and even the use of images of Barragán’s buildings is carefully controlled. Among those who study twentieth-century architecture, the inaccessibility of Barragán’s archive and the bizarre conditions of its custodianship have become almost as much of a preoccupation as his buildings.”
Four years ago, the story of Mr. Barragán’s archive caught the attention of a conceptual artist named Jill Magid. In 2014, Ms. Magid invited Mr. Barragán’s to a lavish dinner and sought their permission to exhume his ashes. With their permission, Mr. Barragán’s cremated ashes were compressed into a diamond, which was then set in an engagement ring.
In seeking the permission of Mr. Barragán’s family, “Magid explained that her intention was to use the engagement ring with Barragán’s compressed remains to ‘propose’ to Zanco, in the hope that she would, in exchange, agree to open the archive, perhaps even to return it to Mexico.”
Although we have written many blog posts over the disputes that often emerge over the archives of celebrated artists and other creatives, the tale of Mr. Barragán’s archive and the engagement ring made from his remains may be one of the most fascinating stories yet.
The article also taps into a broader debate about the public interest in such archives, and the competing views regarding what should be done with an archive to best preserve the artist’s legacy. The article ends with an interview with Ms. Zanco, who explains that she has carefully controlled access to Mr. Barragán’s work through the foundation in order to prevent his legacy from being cheapened.
Thank you for reading and have a great weekend.
Umair Abdul Qadir