Francisco Zúñiga Catalogue Raisonné

Francisco Zúñiga working on Woman with Hands at Her Face (CR no. 880), 1981.

Artist: Francisco Zúñiga (1912 – 1998)

Titles: Catalogue Raisonné, Francisco Zúñiga Volume I: Sculpture (update); Volume V: Drawings

Previous Volumes: Volume I: Sculpture (1999), Volume II: Oil Paintings, Prints & Reproductions (2003), Volume III: Drawings (2006), Volume IV: Drawings (2006)

Format: Online (future print editions possible)

Publisher: Fundación Zúñiga Laborde

Publication Date: Early 2020 (anticipated)

Scope: Sculpture (including plaster, bronze, terracotta, wood, marbles, onyxes, and enclosure stones), 1923–1998; Drawings, 1924–1989

Objects: 1,150 sculptures; 1,650 drawings (15 paintings as an addendum to vol. II)

Object Fields: Each work will have at least one image, and a record card in Spanish and English including title(s), date, technique, edition, measurements, collection, provenance observations, exhibitions, and bibliographic references.

Supporting Research Documentation: The revised vol. I will have a chronology and possibly edited versions of previously published essays; vol. V may have a newly commissioned essay.

Organized and Supported by: Fundación Zúñiga Laborde


Interview with Ariel Zúñiga, Director of the Fundación Zúñiga Laborde

What inspired the Zúñiga catalogue raisonné? When did work commence and how involved was the artist?

Francisco Zúñiga always maintained complete control of his work. It was a very personal and intimate activity, and as a consequence documents piled up for more than twenty years. When he started having solo exhibitions outside of Mexico, my mother and sister became involved with logistics, but then a demand for bronze numbered editions also arose. Since in his mind each bronze was unique, it was not easy for him to adapt to a numbering system. He never allowed a complete edition to be cast at the same time, so pieces were always cast one by one. He continued to control his editions and there were many numbering errors.

At the same time, he had to manage at least six stone carvers who roughed the marble and onyx blocks for him to finish. Demand grew too fast in relation to production and, due to a certain success as perceived by the local environment, apocryphal pieces began to appear. At his request in the early ’70s, I began working with my father as his studio photographer. At first this was for two days a week, then a few years later it became full-time, and I learned from him about the lost wax process, faux detection, formal choices, as well as putting order into files and correspondence. It became obvious that a catalogue raisonné was necessary, but it was a long time before we were ready to produce it.

His main involvement with the process was to make notes on the backs of the photographs that were presented to him every week by my mother. It was very helpful to establish order in the registers of the work and for creating a sort of early database.

Were there studio records or other resources that provided an initial basis for the catalogue raisonné?

There are many records: payment lists, cast pieces lists, lists of galleries and collectors, and correspondence. It took a long time to organize everything so that it could be used.

Did any of the prior monographs on the artist influence the catalogue raisonné’s development?

In all of the four monographs (Zúñiga by the poet Alí Chumacero, 1969; Francisco Zúñiga by Carlos Francisco Echeverría, 1980; Zúñiga, Sculptor: Conversations and Interpretations by Sheldon Reich, 1980; Zúñiga, Costa Rica by Luis Ferrero, 1985), we found helpful information to correct errors in measurements and dates as well as alternate titles, but they did not have an influence on the catalogue raisonné. By the time we were ready to produce it, other catalogues raisonnés such as the René Magritte catalogue raisonné edited by David Sylvester had a stronger influence on us as to what was needed.

When did you start working on these latest volumes?

By early 2006, the third and fourth volumes were published and, since we estimated that the works we had documented thus far were less than 25% of his total output in the medium, I immediately began work on the next volume of the drawings. Fortunately, I was actively collaborating with most of the auction houses by then, and I could access information and images that would have taken much longer to find by myself.

Why update the first volume?

When I started the first volume around 1992, I had no experience with compiling, designing, or printing books. Nevertheless, I threw myself into the project because we needed it. But I was always considered any errors or defects of the book as too important to ignore. For this reason, instead of simply doing an addendum of corrections that felt like it would clearly not be enough, I preferred to start all over. I believe it was the right decision and that the work deserves it.

What went into the decision to take the Zúñiga catalogue raisonné online?

There seems to be much less interest in printed books. To publish such a big book is also expensive and requires storage space, which would call for a bigger organization than ours. On the other side, an online catalogue is easier to keep updated. Although I personally consider a print edition very important, today we need access to a wider spectrum of readers and we can offer them more through an online version.

Did you have any digital production files from the earlier volumes that have been reusable?

I kept all of the Quark files originally used for the first four volumes as well as PDF versions, but now we have a stand-alone FileMaker database. It contains more details, and we also use it to add corrections, new information, and images. The second and fourth volumes were more accurate (if I may say so), and we do not need to start all over since we can add smaller addenda sections for corrections.

How will the new sculpture volume be organized?

The new volume will be organized chronologically, mostly into sections according to decade. Since some periods were more prolific than others, in some cases we will further divide the sections. The works from Costa Rica (1923–1935) will be followed by a section of works made in Mexico (1937–1989) which will be divided by decades, and the works he produced once he had lost his sight (1990–1993) will be in the final section.

Were preferred angles of view a consideration in reproducing the sculptures?

When I became the main sculpture photographer in 1970, Zúñiga gave me a text by Heinrich Wölfflin to read, “How Should One Photograph Sculpture?” [“Wie man Skulpturen aufnehmen soll? (Probleme der italienischen Renaissance),” 1915]. In the essay, Wölfflin discusses the issue of photographing sculptures from different angles and the difficulties he faced in using them for his writing.

Zúñiga divided his working day into two halves. From early morning to noon, he worked on sculpture. His afternoons were dedicated to drawing or, in some of his later years, the lithography workshop. I mention this because he was also very precise about how he wanted his works to be photographed: without artificial light, showing the sculptures with the natural light used to make them (from the front, back, sides, and in details), and not showing them from above or below. This was important to him, so I have respected his wishes.

When I have been unable to access a work, I usually ask for at least one frontal image. The online version will have more images when available.

Did the object documentation process differ for the prints and sketchbooks?

In relation to lithographs, there was a previous catalogue published in 1984, Zúñiga: The Complete Graphics, 1972—1984, which was edited by his primary lithography dealer, Jerry Brewster. There were very few corrections to be made when we included these works in our second volume. That volume also includes the woodcuts. While there were never formal editions of those prints, during the early ’80s we could recover 65% of the woodcut blocks, and we based our entries on them.

As for the sketchbooks, they were separated as single sheets. Very few were signed or dated, and they corresponded within groups to different dates and subjects. We are treating them as works in progress and incorporating them within different sections to establish links with a finished drawing or sculpture, independent of their date.

How have you handled provenance?

Our provenance information has become much more developed over the years, but it has always been the most delicate issue. We have worked extensively on provenance with museums, galleries, and auction houses, but we have also encountered institutions that do not go as far as they could. A few times, we have discovered fakes in museum collections. In these cases, we might have only received a list of titles without any images, so it would take some time for us to detect it, even when we have an established relationship with the museum. When they receive a donation, it does not necessarily mean they are going to contact us with a confirmation request or consult the catalogue raisonné volumes that most of them have in their libraries.

Those who produce fake artworks have very elaborate provenance documentation. But it doesn’t take much research to find issues, such as a line of ownership that comes from another artwork, a letter attributed to the artist, and so on. Works known to be authentic never present a problem, but an apocryphal work that has been refused will always reappear later with more elaborate provenance documentation, so we always leave provenance verification to the end, when all other information about a work has been completed.

Have ‘apprenticeship’ works—such as the carved santos that the artist produced with his father—figured into the catalogue raisonné?

We only considered those who were directly made by him to be included in the catalogue raisonné, and there were only a few of these. One work in particular is Saint Johan (CR no. 26). This stone carving is based on his own ideas and carved on his own. His father carved in wood instead of stone, but since he was quite young and unknown to the priests who had commissioned the piece, they wanted it signed by his father, who was well-known in Latin America as a sculptor of religious figures.

The artist wrote that he spent all of his savings as a youth on art books and even learned French through them. Is the artist’s library intact? Is there a bibliography?

Zúñiga’s library is just as he left it. It is a quite large collection and we keep adding new volumes, from anything directly related to his work to books about other artists he was particularly interested in so that the collection can provide a better understanding of his process. Reviewing his books and reading about as many artists as possible was an important part of his everyday life. Producing an inventory is one of our next projects.

Are there particular geographical concentrations of work by the artist?

In terms of private collections, California, Arizona, and Mexico have the most works, then Costa Rica, followed by Florida, New York, and Japan. There are several public sculptures in Japan, and one in Germany. In public institutions, American museums occupy the first place, but there are also museums in Japan, France, and Belgium with at least one or two pieces in their permanent collections.

How valuable has travel been for catalogue raisonné research?

Travel has been essential. During a ten year period, I attended most of the auction sales in New York. With the help of his dealers there, I learned everything I could about the art market. This was mainly a way to get personally in touch with the collectors, to photograph their works and review measurements, and listen to what they had to say. I have gone to Costa Rica at least once a year for many years, just to locate a piece, photograph it, measure it, and to hear the collector’s experiences while learning about their artwork’s provenance. Depending on the timing, I will also attend exhibitions when there is a Zúñiga work included.

In the Sheldon Reich monograph, the author wrote that you directed the artist’s “wonderful torrent of ideas into channels less steep and precipitous.” What advice do you have for others working on catalogues raisonnés, especially for those documenting the work of an artist who is also a family member?

Zúñiga was charismatic and firm in his opinions. He taught for more than thirty years at the art school La Esmeralda, and always spoke about the subjects that interested him passionately. But that does not mean that he would be predictable when asked about his work, and this was certainly true during the interview with Reich. Why? Because his main interest was the work he was doing at the time, and if a question related to earlier works, with few exceptions he responded in a few words before returning to the work he was making at that particular moment.

When an interviewer does not understand how to approach the subject, especially if they do not speak the same language or at least have their own translator, the one who assumes responsibility for translation is the perfect scapegoat for the interviewer. And if they are closely related to the artist, it can be even worse.

I am not in a position to give advice, but in my experience, even when you are very enthusiastic about the work of a family member (which is not always the case, although it is in mine), there are two clear but nonetheless challenging considerations. The first is to establish a certain distance between the artist and their work, and the second is to separate the work from the fact that it was created by a family member. There are many essays that relate Zúñiga very intimately to his work and refuse to accept any separation between them. This is not necessarily wrong, but neither is it the whole truth. When the artist is no longer, the work is most important. For catalogues raisonnés, the main principle is to relate all of the works together—without exclusions—while avoiding subjectivity as much as possible. Fortunately, most of those who approach this task can enlarge their teams and surround themselves with the objectivity of other points of view, which is very important for this work.


To learn more, visit or contact the Zúñiga Laborde Foundation at

Interview conducted by Carl Schmitz, Director of Communications and Publications