Mexico City is one of the most important cultural centers in the world, boasting more museums than any other city, Mexico City is alive with performing arts, not all of them limited to the stage. The streets are often full of musicians and dancers, while cafes and restaurants commonly host live music at all times of day. Performances of native dance and ritual can be seen in the city’s public squares, and theater is common, often found in churches and storefronts in addition to the city’s numerous small theaters.
Mexico City also comes third in the number of theaters in the world, just after London and New York. Having been the capital of a vast pre-Hispanic empire, and also the capital of richest viceroyalty within the Spanish Empire (ruling over a vast territory in the Americas and Spanish East Indies), and, finally, the capital of the Mexican federation, Mexico City has a rich history of artistic expression.
Since the Mesoamerican pre-Classical period the inhabitants of the settlements around Lake Texcoco produced many works of art and complex craftsmanship, some of which are today displayed at the world-renown National Museum of Anthropology and the Templo Mayor Museum. While many pieces of pottery and stone-engraving have survived, the great majority of the Amerindian iconography was destroyed during the Conquest of Mexico.
During colonial times the first art produced was that of the codices generated to preserve or recuperate Amerindian iconography and history. From then, artistic expressions in Mexico were mostly religious in theme.
The Metropolitan Cathedral still displays works by Juan de Rojas, Juan Correa and an oil painting whose authorship has been attributed to Murillo. Secular works of art of this period include the equestrian sculpture of Charles IV of Spain, locally known as El Caballito (“The little horse”). This piece, in bronze, was the work of Manuel Tolsá and it has been placed at the Plaza Tolsá, in front of the Palacio de Minería (Mining Palace). Directly in front of this building is the beautiful Museo Nacional de Arte (Munal) (the National Museum of Art).
During the 19th century, an important producer of art was the Academia de San Carlos (San Carlos Art Academy), founded during colonial times, and which later became the Escuela Nacional de Artes Plásticas (the National School of Visual Arts), which is currently one of the art schools of UNAM. Many of the works produced by the students and faculty of that time are now displayed in the Museo Nacional de San Carlos (National Museum of San Carlos). One of the students, José María Velasco, is considered one of the greatest Mexican landscape painters of the 19th century. It was during Porfirio Díaz’s regime that the government sponsored arts, especially those that followed the French school. In spite of that, popular arts in the form of cartoons and illustrations flourished like those of José Guadalupe Posada and Manuel Manilla. The permanent collection of the San Carlos Museum also includes paintings by European masters such as Rembrandt, Velázquez, Murillo, and Rubens.
After the Mexican Revolution, an avant garde artistic movement originated in Mexico City: muralism. Many of the works of muralists José Clemente Orozco, David Alfaro Siqueiros and Diego Rivera are displayed in numerous buildings in the city, most notably at the National Palace and the Palacio de Bellas Artes. Frida Kahlo, wife of Rivera, with a strong nationalist expression, was also one of the most renowned of Mexican painters. Her house has become a museum that displays many of her works.
The former home of Rivera muse Dolores Olmedo house the namesake museum. The facility lies in the Xochimilco precinct in the southern part of the city and includes several buildings surrounded by sprawling manicured lawns. It houses a large collection of Rivera and Kahlo paintings and drawings, as well as living Xoloizcuintles (Mexican Hairless Dog). It also regularly hosts small but important temporary exhibits of classical and modern art (e.g. Venetian Masters and Contemporary New York artists).
During the 20th century, many artists immigrated to Mexico City from different regions of Mexico, like Leopoldo Méndez, an engraver from Veracruz, who supported the creation of the socialist Taller de la Gráfica Popular (Popular Graphics Workshop), designed to help blue-collar workers find a venue to express their art. Other painters came from abroad, like Catalan painter Remedios Varo and other Spanish and Jewish exiles. It was in the second half of the 20th century that the artistic movement began to drift apart from the Revolutionary theme. José Luis Cuevas opted for a modernist style in contrast to the muralist movement associated with social politics.
Mexico City has numerous museums dedicated to art, including Mexican colonial, modern and contemporary art, and international art.
The Museo Tamayo was opened in the mid-1980s to house the collection of international contemporary art donated by famed Mexican (born in the state of Oaxaca) painter Rufino Tamayo. The collection includes pieces by Picasso, Klee, Kandinsky, Warhol and many others, though most of the collection is stored while visiting exhibits are shown.
The Museo de Arte Moderno (Museum of Modern Art) is a repository of Mexican artists from the 20th century, including Rivera, Orozco, Siqueiros, Kahlo, Gerzso, Carrington, Tamayo, among others, and also regularly hosts temporary exhibits of international modern art.
In southern Mexico City, the Museo Carrillo Gil (Carrillo Gil Museum) showcases avant-garde artists, as does the University Museum/Contemporary Art (Museo Universitario Arte Contemporáneo – or MUAC), designed by famed Mexican architect Teodoro González de León, inaugurated in late 2008.
The Museo Soumaya, named after the wife of Mexican tycoon Carlos Slim, has the largest private collection of original Rodin sculptures outside Paris. It also has a large collection of Dalí sculptures, and recently began showing pieces in its masters collection including El Greco, Velázquez, Picasso and Canaletto. The museum inaugurated a new futuristic-design facility in 2011 just north of Polanco, while maintaining a smaller facility in Plaza Loreto in southern Mexico City.
The Colección Jumex is a contemporary art museum located on the sprawling grounds of the Jumex juice company in the northern industrial suburb of Ecatepec. It is said to have the largest private contemporarry art collection in Latin America and hosts pieces from its permanent collection as well as traveling exhibits by leading contemporary artists.
The Museo de San Ildefonso, housed in the Antiguo Colegio de San Ildefonso in Mexico City’s historic downtwon district is a 17th century colonnaded palace housing an art museum that regularly hosts world-class exhbitis of Mexican and international art. Recent exhibits have included those on David LaChapelle, Antony Gormley and Ron Mueck.
The National Museum of Art (Museo Nacional de Arte) is also located in a former palace in the historic center. It houses a large collection of pieces by all major Mexican artists of the last 400 years and also hosts visiting exhibits.
Jack Kerouac, the noted American author, spent extended periods of time in the city, and wrote his masterpiece volume of poetry Mexico City Blues here. Another American author, William S. Burroughs, also lived in the Colonia Roma neighborhood of the city for some time. It was here that he accidentally shot his wife.
There are more than 150 museums in Mexico City. Most of the museums can be visited from Tuesday to Sunday from 10 am to 5 pm, although some of them have extended schedules, such as the Museum of Anthropology and History, which is open up to 7 pm. In addition to this, entrance to most museums is for free on Sundays. However, in some cases a modest fee may be charged.
Another major addition to the city’s museum scene is the Museum of Remembrance and Tolerance (Museo de la Memoria y Tolerancia), inaugurated in early 2011. The brainchild of two young Mexican women as a holocaust museum, the idea morphed into a unique museum dedicated to showcasing all major historical events of discrimination and genocide. Permanent exhibits include those on the holocaust and other humanitarian atrocities in history among others. It also houses temporary exhibits, including a recent one on Tibet which was inaugurated by the Dalai Lama in September 2011.
Music, theater and entertainment
Mexico City is a mecca of classical music, with a number of orchestras offering season programs. These include the Mexico City Philharmonic, which performs at the Sala Ollin Yoliztli; the National Symphony Orchestra, whose home base is the Palacio de Bellas Artes (Palace of the Fine Arts), a masterpiece of art nouveau and art decó styles; the Philharmonic Orchestra of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (OFUNAM), and the Minería Symphony Orchestra,both of which perform at the acoustically renown Sala Nezahualcóyotl, which was the first wrap-around concert hall in the Western Hemisphere when inaugurated in 1976.
There are also many smaller ensembles that enrich the city’s musical scene, including the Carlos Chávez Youth Symphony, the New World Orchestra (Orquesta del Nuevo Mundo), the National Polytechnical Symphony and the Bellas Artes Chamber Orchestra (Orquesta de Cámara de Bellas Artes).
The city is also a leading center of popular culture and music. There are a multitude of venues hosting Spanish and foreign-language performers. These include the 10,000-seat National Auditorium that regularly schedules the top Spanish and English-language pop and rock artists, as well as many of the world’s leading performing arts ensembles, the auditorium also broadcasts Grand Opera performances from New York’s Metropolitan Opera on giant, high definition screens. The National Auditorium has been awarded Best Venue in the World.
Other popular sites for pop-artist performances include the Teatro Metropolitan, the 15,000-seat Palacio de los Deportes, and the larger 50,000-seat Foro Sol Stadium, where top-name international artists perform on a regular basis. The Cirque du Soleil has held several seasons at the Carpa Santa Fe, in the Santa Fe district in the western part of the city. There are numerous venues for smaller musical ensembles and solo performers. These include the Hard Rock Live, Bataclán, Foro Scotiabank, Lunario, Circo Volador and Voilá Acoustique.
It is said that Mexico City has more theatres than any other city in the Spanish-speaking world.At any given time, dozens of plays are staged which run the gamut from Spanish versions of Broadway shows to mainstream and alternative Spanish-language originals.
The Centro Nacional de las Artes (National Center for the Arts), in southern Mexico City, has several venues for music, theatre, dance. UNAM’s main campus, also in the southern part of the city, is home to the Centro Cultural Universitario (the University Culture Center) (CCU). The CCU also houses the National Library, the interactive Universum, Museo de las Ciencias,the Sala Nezahualcóyotl concert hall, several theatres and cinemas, and the new University Museum of Contemporary Art (MUAC). A branch of the National University’s CCU cultural center was inaugurated in 2007 in the facilities of the former Ministry of Foreign Affairs, known as Tlatelolco, in north-central Mexico City.
The José Vasconcelos Library, a national library, is located on the grounds of the former Buenavista railroad station in the northern part of the city.
The Papalote Children’s Museum, which houses the world’s largest dome screen, is located in the wooded park of Chapultepec, near the Museo Tecnológico, and La Feria Amusement Park. The theme park Six Flags México (the largest amusement park in Latin America) is located in the Ajusco borough, in southern Mexico City. During the winter, the main square of the Zócalo is transformed into a gigantic ice skating rink, which is said to be the largest in the world behind that of Moscow’s Red Square.
The Cineteca Nacional (the Mexican Film Library), near the Coyoacán suburb, shows a wide variety of films, and stages many film festivals, including the annual International Showcase, and many smaller ones ranging from Scandinavian and Uruguayan cinema, to Jewish and GLBT-themed films. Cinépolis and Cinemex, the two biggest film business chains, also have several film festivals throughout the year, with both national and international movies. No other city in the world has the amount of IMAX theaters as are in Mexico City,this gives access to cinematographic documentaries as well as blockbusters on the world’s largest screens.
To find out what’s going on around town purchase the weekly Tiempo Libre for a few pesos. It’s a Spanish only but easy enough to navigate.