Putting Mexico City On The Map: Contemporary Art Among The Ruins

By Carole Reedy

When most tourists ponder a visit to this grand city, they envision spending their days wandering pyramids and castles, viewing pre-Colombian artifacts in museums, and roaming cobblestone streets in search of the Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera domiciles. In fact, most visitors to DF focus on the past rather than exploring the contemporary cultural scene, as they might in London or Paris.

But Eugenio Lopez Alonso, Jr, is changing that image of Mexico City. Last November, he opened his Museo Jumex, located kitty-corner from another new museum that’s getting much hype in the city, Museo Soumaya (owned by Carlos Slim, the world’s richest man). Both museums are located in the swank Polanco area and stand in striking contrast to the older parts of the city, just a few miles away. But in fact, the entire area is being renovated into a fresh cultural scene.

Adjacent to Museo Soumaya is the Teatro Telcel, a modern, comfortable theater that is currently showing the Broadway hit musical Wicked. Every seat is a good one, and unlike many older theaters there’s ample leg room between aisles, excellent acoustics, and an airy feel. You’ll leave the theater feeling refreshed, not cramped and crabby.

Meanwhile, back to the Museo Jumex. Billionaire founder Alonso is the sole heir of Mexico’s largest juice company, Grupo Jumex, and is known for his contemporary art collection, rumored to be the largest in Latin America. The building, designed by British architect David Chipperfield, is simple and bright with five floors of sky-lighted rooms filled with a permanent collection as well as special exhibitions.

“Fun and diverse,” in the words of recent visitors, is perhaps the best way to describe this new space for art. From works by Andy Warhol and Jasper Johns to a complete retrospective of James Lee Byars (entitled “1/2 An Autobiography”), you’ll hardly catch your breath among the diverse styles, colors, and subjects of these contemporary artists. And you won’t win the billiard game here either. Yes, visitors are invited to take a cue and play with the suspended balls in an exhibit created by Orozco. There are no holes in the table, but all this ensures you’ll leave the museum happy and exhilarated.

Museo Jumex hours: Tuesdays through Sundays 11 am to 8 pm.

Museo Soumaya is open every day of the year from 10:30 am to 6:30 pm. This museum is free to everyone.   Both are located in the Plaza Carso, Polanco.

The newly renovated Museo Tamayo reopened about a year ago and is already being acclaimed as a museum worthy of international stature. It will be known not only as a showcase for works of art and exhibitions, but for the educational opportunities it provides. Its new restaurant with outstanding view, airy outdoor spaces, and a new store. Architect Teodoro González de León spearheaded the expansion and remodeling project, which he created originally with Abraham Zabludowsky. There is no question that this is a 21st century museum.

Museo Tamayo hours: Tuesdays through Fridays 10 am to 6 pm. The museum is located on Paseo de la Reforma and is part of Chapultepec Park. It sits across from the lovely Museo de Arte Moderno, close to the Diana statue.

The Alameda: Right next to the marble wonder Bellas Artes (which itself was renovated just a few years ago), the park known as Alameda has undergone a complete change. It’s now brighter and airier, the old sickly trees removed and a fresh emphasis on fountains and flowers. These days more children are found playing here in the stylish new fountains, especially on hot days. Other features include more park benches for resting after a full day of sightseeing in Centro Historico, the park is now more conducive for visiting with friends, reading, or just people-watching. With the gloomy, tree-covered area filled with hawkers and vendors eliminated, more visitors and residents alike are taking advantage of this respite from the traffic and hustle-bustle of the city.

In past years, my visitors from the North have asked to visit the Templo Mayor (the Aztec temple in the Zócalo), the canals of Xochimilco, and Trotsky’s house (Frida’s too) in Coyoacan. But this year when asked what sights they wanted to see while visiting Mexico City for a few short days, the response has been “Oh, that new Jumex Museum and the Slim one too.

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