Tuesday, July 02, 2013

The Soumaya in Mexico City

Yesterday a friend and I went to the new Soumaya Museum in Mexico City which was built by Carlos Slim.   It is a very striking building near the edge of the Polanco neighborhood.

Slim is the richest person in Mexico and is of Lebanese origin but he is passionate about Mexico.   The inside is built on the concept of a large marble covered corkscrew.   As you walk up the five levels (you can ride if you want in an elevator) you come to levels which are divided roughly by time - although the first level has a very interesting exhibit on coinage and monetary issuances in Mexico over time.

There is a lot to like about the museum.  First and foremost it is an impressive monument.   The wide spaces are awe inspiring.   The scale of the whole project is impressive.   It is also a free admission and they are quite liberal about allowing photos without flash.   In many other Mexican museums photos are discouraged or prohibited.

As you walk up the levels, you go through a couple of historical periods.   I thought the fourth and fifth levels were the most interesting.  The fourth level contains some of the work by the Mexican muralists.  It is not a large collection but there are some interesting works.   At the same time, I suspect because he was also Lebanese, there are some paintings and original manuscripts from Khalil Gibran the author of the Prophet and a number of other works.

I am not a real fan of Gibran's writing,that almost every reads when they are young, but it was interesting to understand that the writer was also a painter of pretty good skill.
 As you come up to the final floor, and the corkscrew ends, you get into a sculpture garden that has several works from August Rodin as well as a number of other artists.  I was struck by the Head of John the Baptist, which is done in white marble.

I was surprised when I got to the top of the museum that they did not consider extending the natural light to the lower floors.   Natural light would have aided the space below a lot.    That may not have been architecturally possible and too much natural light might affect the paintings - but as I was going up the level, I was struck at how some other museums, for example the Amparo in Puebla, use a combination of artificial and natural light a lot more effectively.

In some ways the Museum is a lot like the Hirshhorn in Washington. Like the Soumaya it is a striking architectural achievement.  Like Slim, Joseph Hirshhorn was a successful business person with a large although not very coherent collection.   Unlike the Hirshhorn - the Soumaya is a project that was funded by the donor.   There are tons of good museums in Mexico and the Soumaya, for my taste, is easily added to that list.  It was well worth the couple of hours to go through it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi, bye