Mexico City, a feast for the eyes, provides a rich visual arts presence in the country. Join our aesthetic adventurer Jonathan Spindel as he provides an insider’s look at all there is to see on the bustling arts scene.
We all know that Mexico is world-renowned for beautiful beaches, intriguing interior, and colorful culture. Did you know it also boasts some of the best art collections in the world? The capital city boasts a score of European masterworks as well as rich traditions of its own. It’s never been easier to visit Mexico City. Just hop on a jet and disembark in the economic and cultural heart of Mexico, with a bustling social scene and a wealth of artwork to match.
Mexico’s philanthropic tycoons have sought out world-class art from across the globe and created incredible museums that compete with Europe’s best, so aesthetes on this side of the Atlantic may experience the highest caliber of historic and contemporary art. Besides having become one of the world’s most recent centers of global fine art, Mexico has rich artistic traditions of its own. So whether you’re looking for Pre-Hispanic Mesoamerican artifacts, Spanish colonial opulence, or the political art of the Mexican Revolution and early 20th century, you can find it all in El Distrito Federal.
MEXICO’S NEWEST BIG MUSEUMS
Start your aesthetic tour with the museums that put Mexico City on the map as a global art center: Museo Soumaya and Museo Jumex. These collections are each housed in their own iconically striking building in the Plaza Carso luxury development in the Nuevo Polanco neighborhood. Museo Soumaya and Museo Jumex were founded by Carlos Slim and Eugenio López Alonso, respectively, two of Mexico’s biggest business magnates and cultural philanthropists.
The Soumaya, founded by Slim, contains over 66,000 works from 30 centuries of art including Pre-Hispanic Mesoamerican sculpture, 19th- and 20th-century Mexican art, and an extensive collection by European masters and modern western artists. In fact, the Soumaya has the largest collection of sculptures by Auguste Rodin outside of France. Named after Soumaya Domit, the late wife of founder Carlos Slim, the museum is considered one of the most complete collections of its kind.
Nearby on the Plaza Carso, the Museo Jumex boasts one of the largest collections of contemporary art in Latin America with emphasis on Mexican contemporary artists. Founded by Eugenio López Alonso, head of Jumex Group, this museum features influential conceptual art including works by the prolific Mexican artist Gabriel Orozco, as well as a broad selection of popular artists from around the world. The Museo Jumex features several exhibitions per year and rotates its works on display continually, so there’s always something new to see.
PARQUE DE CHAPULTEPEC
After feasting your eyes on the Soumaya and Jumex collections, take an intermission in the verdant, woodsy neighborhood of Polanco. This area borders Chapultepec Park, a grand open space dotted with gardens, open plazas, ponds, and shady groves for peaceful introspection. Tuck into a quiet bench to plan your next museum experience. Or if you prefer to see and be seen, Chapultepec Park rivals New York City’s Central Park in terms of metropolitan charm and people-watching. So don your chicest outfit with a pair of shoes made for walking, because you’ll love taking a stroll through the gently twisting garden paths beneath the shade of ancient oaks. When you’re ready to continue your artistic adventure, there are many choice destinations nearby.
The Museo Tamayo, named for the famous Mexican artist Rufino Tamayo, houses a singular collection of Latin American contemporary art now displayed in a completely renovated building. Dedicated to the former collection of its namesake, the Museo Tamayo offers a curated cross-section of the 20th century Latin American art boom, as well as Tamayo’s own collection of contemporary art from across the globe.
For a change of pace, take a step back in time to the National Museum of Anthropology. This architecturally stunning museum holds an incredible collection of priceless artifacts that tell the story of pre-Columbian Mexico. Featuring carved stone Aztec goddesses, gargantuan Olmec heads from deep in the jungle, and sacred treasures from the Maya civilization, this collection represents a broad-scale view of the themes and motifs that underpin Mexico’s artistic traditions.
Now take a look at the height of Mexico’s imperial past in the stately Chapultepec Castle. This impressive estate, perched atop a hill in Chapultepec Park, once served as the residence of the Emperor Maximilian and his wife Empress Carlota. The castle is now officially known as the Museum of National History. Take a stroll through the marble halls and galleries, resplendently appointed with stunning furniture and fine accoutrements. Don’t miss the vivid murals depicting famous scenes of the War of Independence. End your castle visit in the roof-top gardens, which make for a refreshing stroll. The panoramic city views from the top of the hill are unbeatable.
You could stay in Parque de Chapultepec all day, but you wouldn’t want to miss the exceptional sights in the vicinity of El Zócalo, Mexico City’s main central plaza. The Paseo de la Reforma will lead you to the city center; this broad avenue, built in the 1860s and modeled after the great boulevards of Europe, is punctuated by sculptural monuments to Mexico’s greatest historical moments. In addition to its own grandeur and charm, the Zócalo is home to two of Mexico City’s major cultural centers.
The Palace of Fine Arts is the most important cultural center in the country of Mexico. Located next to the Alameda Central Park, this incredibly opulent monument to the arts is every bit as beautiful as the pieces and events housed within. The building is best known for its murals by the famous Diego Rivera and David Alfaro Siqueiros, as well as the myriad exhibitions and performances it hosts, including the Ballet Folklorico de Mexico.
For a fun detour, pop into the nearby Postal Palace, whose opulent art-deco details capture the artistic flair of the early 20th century. In this digital age, we hardly ever think to write a letter; but this surprisingly beautiful post office will make you want to write a postcard just for the fun of dropping it through the gilded mail slot.
Finally, don’t miss the Museum of Popular Art, home of the world’s best collection of traditional Mexican folk art. The museum includes textiles, pottery, piñatas, furniture and much more. The biggest attraction and the museum’s most beloved feature is the yearly Noche de Alebrijes, a parade in which fantastical creatures are created on a monumental scale, then paraded from El Zócalo down the Paseo de Reforma.
Now you may think you’ve seen it all, but Mexico City’s art scene is continually thriving and growing. Cutting-edge contemporary galleries pop up every season, and if you are serious about collecting and wish to acquire some pieces for yourself, you won’t want to miss the Zona Maco, an annual four-day fete for curators and gallerists. On your next visit to Mexico City you’ll see there’s so much more than first meets the eye; take a look and you’ll always find more to discover.