About the Exhibit
What’s the origin of this art form?
Alebrijes go back to 1936. That’s when a 30-year-old Mexico City artist named Pedro Linares had a strange but inspiring “fever dream” after taking ill. In the dream, he is walking in a forest when he encounters amalgamations of colorful creatures that speak to him, saying “Alebrijes! Alebrijes! Alebrijes!”
So, this all started with a dream?
Exactly! After regaining his health, Linares set out to represent the mythical beings in sculpture. The alebrijes from his dream were “ugly and terrifying,” so he added ornate patterns and vibrant colors to make them more attractive. His creations initially met little success. But over time, he refined his alebrijes into the colorfully patterned combinations of reptiles, insects, birds, and mammals recognized today.
Did Linares become famous?
As his reputation grew, Linares attracted the admiration of the iconic Mexican artists Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. Then, a 1975 documentary about Linares by filmmaker Judith Bronowski elevated him to international fame. In 1990, Linares was honored with the first Mexican National Prize in Arts and Sciences in the category of Popular Art and Traditions.
Do all alebrije sculptures follow the same style?
No. The art form has grown in different ways in Mexico. For example, the alebrijes created in Mexico City have a different look and use different materials than those in Oaxaca, a Mexican state. Both styles will be represented at Cantigny. In addition, two of the artists are also toymakers, which is evident in their work.
Didn’t the movie “Coco” feature alebrijes?
Yes! The 2017 Disney/Pixar film helped the art form gain popular exposure in the United States.
How many alebrijes will be at Cantigny?
A total of 49. Nineteen are quite large—”monulmentales” sculptures that are taller and wider than an SUV! The 30 smaller “spirit animal” sculptures will be about 3 to 5 feet long.
Who made them?
Six artists from Mexico City, recruited by the Mexican Cultural Center DuPage in West Chicago. A display inside the Cantigny Visitors Center offers information about each artist, or you can read about them on the Meet the Artists page.
Who is Octavio?
That’s alebrije No. 49, a giant octopus designed and constructed by the artists on site at Cantigny during their residency. They worked as team and with help from community artists and volunteers. “Octavio” was chosen in a naming contest held by the Mexican Cultural Center DuPage. The sculpture is located at the south end of the McCormick allée, and its tentacles stretch WAY out into the surrounding gardens.
What are alebrijes made of?
They are primarily wire shapes covered in papier-mâché and lacquer-coated to protect them from moisture. Heavy steel frames may be used inside the larger sculptures.
What will happen to the sculptures after the exhibit closes?
The sculptures are property of the Mexican Cultural Center DuPage. Some will be donated to local schools and museums, and some of the smaller alebrijes may be sold. Companies or organizations that sponsored a specific alebrije will get to keep their sculptures.