Fighting for an artist's legacy in 'The Proposal'

Fighting for an artist's legacy in 'The Proposal'

The Proposal details director and visual artist Jill Magrid’s own journey for access to architect Luis Barragán’s archives in Switzerland and her controversial means of gaining the owner’s attention. (3.5/5)

With Jill Magid’s trance-like narration, The Proposal takes the viewer between Mexico, New York and Switzerland as she works on a multimedia art installation based on the work of famous Mexican architect Luis Barragán. After his death, the Pritzker Prize-winner’s archives were split two wayshis personal archives are preserved as museum Casa Barragán and remain in Mexico as a UNESCO heritage site, while his professional archives were bought by the Swiss company Vitra (who also trademarked everything in his name). Many art connoisseurs are perturbed by the lack of accessibility to Vitra’s archives, and Mexican activists are also calling for repatriation of a national hero’s legacy.

Magid exchanges letters with Federica Zanco, the archives’ director, in attempt to gain her access for her project. Zanco declines, but Magid persists in sending letters and establishing a line of communication. Playing off a rumor that Zanco’s husband Rolf Fehlbaum bought the archives as an engagement present, Magid (with permission from Barragán’s family), does the unfathomable and turns Barragán’s ashes into a diamond. Magid proposes an ultimatum—she will give the diamond to Zanco, in exchange for access to the archive. This action quickly sparks controversy, calling the act a “grotesque act of recycling” and even comparing it “necrophilia”— but Magid displays her PR genius in gaining widespread attention as she patiently awaits her answer.

Exploring many controversies and lesser-known technicalities in art such as copyright laws and property rights, The Proposal is an abstract documentary asking “how far one will go for art?”

The Proposal is successful if it’s considered an avant-garde art piece. There’s no denying that the cinematography of Magid’s travels to Mexico and Switzerland, as well as her exhibit, are nothing short of stunning. Accompanied by meticulous editing and an engaging score, the film flows well both visually and audibly. However, like much modern art, The Proposal is rather confusingthe audience has to debate what genre it actually fits in. The beginning is rather slow and not particularly captivating, as it takes some time to establish its subject and seems to open on a tangent. The storytelling isn’t too clear until almost the very end, and though it wraps up well, the narration sometimes felt somewhat aimless.

No motivations, backstory, or context are given explaining how Magid became interested in Barragán’s work; we barely learn anything about Magid, other than her determination to get what she wants. As the audience, we have trouble getting emotionally invested in the journey, since we’re simply given one artist’s interpretation of a cycle of events.

But perhaps that is the point for us to be detached, to see how easily people twist their words. Either way, The Proposal and Magid’s work in general leave the viewer with many questions and ethical concerns. It’s definitely a unique experience but the film isn’t for everyone.

© Beatrice Viri FF2 Media (5/30/2019)

Photo: Jill Magid in The Proposal

Does The Proposal pass the Bechdel-Wallace test?

Technically speaking, it does, because it’s based on an exchange of letters between two women. To be clear, they do not discuss Barragán himself, but his work and how to show the proper respect for his legacy.

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