Photos: SEDEMA-Enrique Abe
The Nuclear Physicists Fountain (Fuente Físicos Nucleares) is a 1964 work of the sculptor, Francisco Zúñiga. The park, then known as Nuevo Chapultepec, installed the work here somewhat later. The sculptor had begun work on the nuclear physics theme way back in 1951, although this was the only bronze work cast. More formally, the figures relate to the many dancing and reclining figures he’d worked on over the previous decade.
In the same year, (1951) he was also working on the the giant “Riqueza del mar,” a version of which can be seen on the malecon of the Port of Veracruz. Similar figures grace the National University of Costa Rica. And of course, the Fuente de Nimfas, only a few steps from here, is based around Zúñiga’s “Muchachas Corriendo” (Running Girls), also from 1964. The year marks a highpoint in a career that lasted until the artist’s death in 1998. He also completed the famous 11-meter-tall “Hombre saliendo de la tierra” (Man Going Out from the Earth) in Campeche and the La Juventud (Youth) on the grounds of the National Polytechnic University in the same year (1964).
While the symbolism of nuclear physics, and the orbiting atom, seems passé today, as formal works they coincide perfectly with the passage of the Mid-20th Century. 19th-century European academic art saw its ultimate expression, having passed from Symbolism, through Art Nouveau to the seeming dead-end of Art Deco. Zúñiga helps us to understand the place of the indigenous, or Neo-Indigenist, figure in that progression. Indeed, in all of Latin American art, that highly idealized figure has continued to play a role in the rising trends of Post-Colonialism. This is no longer the distant Greek “other” of the Nike figure in the Ángel de la Independencia. But the indigenous scientist here succeeds in completing the work begun by Juan Badiano y Martín de la Cruz, translators of the Cruz-Badiano Codex from 16th-century Tlatelolco.