Well off the tourist trail, high in the Sierra Madre mountains, 280 miles north of Mexico City, is one of the weirdest, biggest, and most overlooked artistic monuments of the 20th century. It’s known as Las Pozas, which means ‘the pools’, and it was the eccentric vision of a wealthy British gent, Edward James, born and bred a few miles from Brighton, in Sussex and said to have made Salvador Dali and other surrealist artists of the time, famous. More on that later…
Between 1949 and 1984, James spent millions creating a surrealist utopia in the rainforest with Mexican follies sculpted from concrete. It’s been called one of the top 10 wonders of the world, and a surrealist dream come true. This garden of otherworldly delights towers 2,000ft above sea level and resembled an ethereal, Escher-worthy collection of arches, pathways, and waterfalls.
Creating Las Pozas wasn’t an impulsive decision. James had been a huge fan of the Surrealist movement for a while. Some say he made the likes of Salvador Dali famous. He was the only son of an exceedingly wealthy family, and eventually inherited a lot of money but never settled into upper-class British society.
He transformed his Sussex mansion, Monkton House in Sussex, into a surrealist fantasy, with a purple facade, complete with faux curtains around the outside windows and drain pipes made to look like bamboo. Eventually, he moved to California but quickly became claustrophobic. In this video, he says, he thought California was getting too crowded for 80-hectare-scale art installations, finding Mexico “far more romantic.”
To add to the fantasy, all the structures (or sculptures? temples? James intentionally blurs the lines) have dramatic names like ‘The House on Three Floors Which Will Have Five or Four or Six’, ‘The House with a Roof like a Whale’, and ‘The Staircase to Heaven’. Each structure is artfully engulfed in plant life, and at one point, there were 29,000 orchids on the property. This explains why James had to sell off most of his art collection to pay for the $5 million (by today’s conversions) installation. He’s even said to have kept a menagerie of exotic animals here.
In 2007, a group of people passionate about the installation set up a charitable foundation called Fondo Xilitla, and bought the Las Pozas to protect it and the surrounding land and gardens. This means that now workers are hired specifically to ensure the ever-encroaching jungle foliage is kept under control to protect the structures. Although James never completed this shrine to surrealism his fantasy remains a joy to explore.
Find out more about the Edward James Sculpture Garden, Las Pozas, here.