The Ruta de la Amistad (Friendship Route) is of a series of sculptures intended to decorate the area of the Periférico Sur highway prior to the 1968 Olympic Games. Surrounded mostly by countryside at the time, the highway was important for the transportation of athletes and spectators throughout the period of the Games. Three of the most important venues of the Games also received massive sculptures as part of the project.
The Route was conceived and directed by artist and architect Matías Goeritz with the approval of Pedro Ramírez Vázquez, then President of the Organizing Committee of the Games.
It was never a project that fully appealed to the Mexico City public. Goeritz insisted on the exclusive use of cast concrete, his own preferred medium, for almost all the works. The list of invited participating countries closely resembles the list of countries in which Goeritz happened to know working artists. 11 European countries plus the United States, Australia, Japan, Israel, Uruguay and Morocco doesn't exactly form an Olympiad.
More problematic still, the simple monumentalism of the 20th century would never recover from the tumultuous events of 1968, in Mexico City, but around the world, too. Giant government-sponsored concrete sculpture had difficulty inspiring, or even standing out, under the prevailing political conditions of the world at that time.
Most of the works languished, neglected, vandalized, and forgotten for decades. But beginning in 2000, the widening of the freeway renewed interest in many of the 30-year-old landmarks. By then, southern Mexico City had reached a population similar to what we see today. The works were restored and many of them were relocated.
Their numerical order, and even the countries they represented, had lost importance. Many of the artists' biographies had also faded with the passage of time. Massive sculpture was now only referred to as "monumental" in quotations. What after all was ever being monumentalized?
Perhaps Mexico's most important European import was Surrealism. Inexhaustibly useful as an interpretive paradigm, these gigantic mysterious forms could at least be thus understood. The Ruta de la Amistad was perhaps never fully conceived in such a cynical light. But that light has turned out to be illuminating. Many residents of Mexico City will, if grudgingly, accept these works as part of a past we only partly understand.