Contemporary art is always a tough cookie. Contemporary art museums are tough, too. First, you’ve got to find them. Then you’ve got to figure out the art, too.
And while we very often make mention of the fact that Mexico City has more museums than any other city – save precious London – we don’t often put those many museums together with the city’s electric – and very passionate – contemporary art scene.
But like everything chic and sassy, Mexico City’s contemporary art museums are relatively discreet. They’ll occasionally host the blow-out party for the kids, but by and large, they keep a low profile – even while “hiding” some of the city’s most earth-shattering recent aesthetic discoveries.
There’s a lot to look at. Here are five of the best places you’re most likely to find it:
The Jumex Foundation, long regarded as the premier corporate collection of contemporary art in Latin America, began the Jumex museum in Polanco to at least occasionally show off some its collections. Mostly the David Chipperfield-designed museum in Polanco shows off the fact that contemporary art is still not that easy to find. The Jumex Foundation website (redesigned multiple times since the museum opened in 2012) has gotten a little better at promoting shows as they’re scheduled to open, and that includes nearly a full slate for 2017. Check the link below for an idea.
Address: Blvd. Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra 303, col. Polanco
Phone: 5395 2618
Among the most beautiful of museums in the south of the city, the Carillo Gil was named for the contemporary collector and mid-20th-century super-benefactor, Dr. Álvar Carrillo Gil. With a permanent collection of some 2,000 pieces by blue-chip Mexican artists like Orozco, Rivera and especially Siqueiros, it’s a must-see for the twilight of Mexican Modernism. But a renewed focus on contemporary art keeps things fresh and includes 300 drawings, paintings, engravings, lithographs, collages, photographs, installations, artists’ books, sculptures, videos and more.
The University Museum of Contemporary Art of UNAM is the first museum created ex profeso — that is — expressly for contemporary art in all Mexico. Opened just in 2008, MUAC has hosted and exhibited striking international surveys and curated exhibitions of some of the most important art in the world. Designed by Teodoro González de León, the building gives space to lively debate and critical experimentation for in which the very axis of museum-studies centers squarely on the individual visitor.
At the end of the 1970s, Oaxacan artist, Rufino Tamayo, began to acquire works to form his own collection of contemporary international art. He later donated the collection to the Mexican people in order to better present the world artistic panorama to them. Inaugurated just in 1981, it became part of the National Institute of Fine Arts just a few later. Even after the artist’s death, the museum continues to host lively and compelling exhibitions of important international and Mexican artists.
Sometimes far more famous for the building, constructed some 100 years ago in Germany it was moved to Mexico in 1903. Though it’s been put to a good half dozen uses since then, as one of the city’s liveliest contemporary art museums it’s been going strong since 1975. The truly impressive renovations from 2004-2010 have resulted in the striking space for exhibitions and performances that we see today. Far from a stodgy collection of galleries, today the Chopo museum host round the year screenings, concerts, and exhibitions of some of the city’s and the world’s most impressive creators.
Address: Dr. Enrique González Martínez 10, col. Santa María la Ribera
Phone: 5546 8490
Though the internet makes lots more information available to lots more people, Mexico City libraries have simply not been supplanted. Charged with continually re-inventing themselves, and their places in the public imagination, one can still encounter eras gone by and great historical minds in a library as in few other places.
Knowledge, after all, belongs to everyone. Opening a book, reading it at a study, or just meeting in the silence of one these Mexico City libraries enhances concentration, and provides a welcome respite from everything going on out there in the world.
Of all Mexico City libraries, the oldest were part of the church and one or another of its offshoot organizations. Among these was the Colegio de Santa Cruz de Tlatelolco, founded in the 1530s and surviving today as the Biblioteca José María Lafragua. Most of these ecclesiastical libraries were not truly open to the public, and Mexico had to wait for the National Library of Mexico, inaugurated by Benito Juárez in 1867 to enjoy the benefits of a truly public library system.
The list below is intended to let you enjoy some of that system, too.
Opened just ten years ago, in 2006, the Vasconcelos is visited by thousands for the sheer spectacle of its innovative design. Graced by the iconic whale from artist, Gabriel Orozco, it’s always a good library for art and visual spectacle. The facade retains something of a colonial appearance, but for sheer scale, and jaw-dropping space, the interior must be experienced.
We’ve written a lot about it in these pages, but the UNAM library with the Juan O’Gorman murals remains one of the most outstanding of all Mexico City libraries. As a UNESCO site with some 428,000 volumes in the collection, it’s the biggest in Mexico, but lots of folks visit just to see the facade and the surrounding grounds.
Opened by Benito Juárez in 1867, there’s still a good one million books inside, today administered by the folks from UNAM. Originally located in the San Agustín church in the city center, the current building was opened in 1979. Geometric, and massive, it’s an extraordinary place to visit.
Specializing in economic materials, this collection of some 86,350 books and 114,852 journals is administered by the Secretary of Finance and Public Credit. Founded in 1928, it’s one of the cities true public art spectacles. Inside the main nave of the old Oratory of San Felipe Neri “El Nuevo,” the baroque façade outside is just the beginning. Inside, the murals are futuristic, and not to be missed.
One of Centro’s truly outstanding historical buildings, for centuries it was the convent of the Clarisas from the 16th century. Today it’s something like a “Library of Congress” with a stunning collection of publications and artifacts, but also with a lush, deep, dark intellectual interior, that beckons from centuries past.
Address: Tacuba 29, Centro Histórico
Photographs this page: Flickr – Creative Commons
Mexico City’s Tepito neighborhood has for a millennia history offered resistance, rebellion, and hope. Tenochtitlan relegated dissidents to Tepito’s crooked alleys. The “brave neighborhood,” even hundreds of years later, is still marginalized and bent on survival. Somehow residents seem to bear that history in the very DNA.
With a reputation for violence, deprivation, and overcrowding, some of the great characters of Mexican history have come from Tepito. The cradle of Mexican boxing, in the 1970s an important literary movement emerged in Tepito, and the neighborhood has contributed as much to the culture of the city and country as have many, much wealthier places.
Among all the stories of people whose hard work is performed with an enviable dignity, there are thousands of women who carry out similar work for their families. Resident Mayra Valenzuela Rojas remarked, “In Tepito there’s a matriarchy (…) Every woman has her own story. Each of us is a spark, but together we are lighting a candle for Tepito.”
German photographer, Anja Jensen, is currently exhibiting her work in a show called “Ciudadanas-Caminamos a oscuras” (Citizens-We Walk in the Dark). Having spent months in Tepito, she’s documented the women challenging the stereotypes of the neighborhood.
Jensen was assaulted and threatened, but she was also clothed and cared for by the women who opened their stories and lives to her. The result is a series photographs, “Las Cabronas de Tepito,” (Bad Girls of Tepito) a collective portrait of the matriarchy whose fervor makes the neighborhood better and regularly improves the lives of the people living there.
The photographs will be exhibited through February 12, 2017, as part of the Mexico-Germany Dual Year, at the German Pavilion on the Plaza Rio de Janeiro, in Roma Norte.