Monday, September 9, 2013

One Saturday Morning: Museo Soumaya, Plaza Carso

            by Alma Maria Rinasz

If you are planning on visiting Mexico City and have a free morning, why not give Museo Soumaya, Plaza Carso a try?

On Saturday, August 24th, after a short ride from the art deco inspired Colonia Condesa, (to read an architect's take on art deco in La Condesa, read Jim Johnston's blog here) I stood for the first time in front of Museo Soumaya, Plaza Carso in the heart of Polanco.  Among the noise, traffic and movement so typical of Mexico City, this windowless, silver building looks out of place.  Shopping centers and office buildings flank the museum, a building that makes me think of an educational toy used to learn about geometry.  Walking up the steep steps, it is hard to look up at the architecture without tipping over and crashing down the stairs.  I pause at the top of the steps and see a revolving door bearing the name of the museum in cursive letters.  It is still early and there aren't many people entering the building. I take one last look around at the skyline; a Saks Fifth Avenue sits next to the museum, followed by a Cinepolis VIP.  This is a museum with some swanky neighbors. 
Museo Soumaya,Plaza Carso, exterior

Walking through the revolving doors there is a coat check area off to the left and a security check directly ahead.  The day is cool and so is the museum.  As I walk through security I see a familiar sculpture.  It looks like TheThinker by Rodin.  It turns out to be one of the more than two dozen castings of the original sculpture.  If I had known that one of its siblings had just sold for more than 15.3million USD I might have snapped a close up but I took this picture instead. 
La Gúare and The Thinker
Visitors to the Soumaya can take all the photographs they want, along as they don’t use flash on their cameras.

I first walk through the ground floor.  There are restrooms, information booths, an empty cafeteria, a Telmex sponsored computer lab and a gift shop. The gift shop is full of merchandise from Sanborns; one of Carlos Slim’s many businesses.   The Carlos Slim Foundation is responsible for both museums, Plaza Loreto in the southern colonia of San Angel and Plaza Loreto, in Polanco.  The gift shop has what you’d expect to see in a gift shop: memorabilia and souvenirs that say Museo Soumaya and some elegant examples of artisanal work; lacquered boxe and ceramic tiles. There are also impressive looking chelophane wrapped books on different periods in art history.

Heading up the ramp towards the upper floors, I look over booklet I picked up at the information booth.  The museum is divided into six rooms or salas.  I begin in Sala 1, Oro y Plata, Marfil y Madera (gold and silver, ivory and wood). 
Ivory sculpture, Museo Soumaya, Plaza Carso
It is not until I am in Sala 3 that I come across Abdul Bornio, dressed in dark beige suit, explaining the how religious art was used by the Spanish to conquer the hearts and minds of the aborigonal people in the Americas.
Guide Abdul Bornio explaining works of art
I stop to listen and realized that this young man is most likely one of the guides mentioned in the booklet: "free guided tours Saturdays and Sundays at 11 am 1:30pm and 5pm" the pamphlet reads. I ask if I can join in the tour and Mr. Bornio welcomes me with a smile.  We continue walking among paintings by old Europe and Novohispano masters.  I am particularly impressed with the painting by Pieter Brueghel, the younger and upon arriving home find his father, The Older, in an art book featuring work from El Prado.  Our guide begins to explain some of the sayings that are still used today.  These are Flemish proverbs. Mexico, being a Spanish colony, inherited these European sayings as a part of colonization. This cultural context is 
Flemish Proverbs by Pieter Brueghel The Younger
 one of the benefits of having a guide and I highly recommend taking one of the guided tours.  Mr. Bornio explains, as we continue on to Sala 2 where the temporary exhibition of Asia in Ivory is housed, that the best way to see the museum is to begin at the top (in Sala 6) and work your way down.  Our tour finishes in Sala 1, (gold and silver, ivory and wood) in front of a silver sculpture by Bvlgari.  Mr. Bornio explains that it was a gift from the Italian jewlery design house to the Slim Foundation.  He points out some of  differences from the actual building and the sculpture.   
Bvlgari silver reproduction of Museo Soumaya, Plaza Carso

I finish my visit to the museum on my own.  However, Mr. Bornio explains that the reason why there are six rooms is because Carlos Slim and his late wife, Soumaya Domit, had six children and each one of these rooms reflects the personality and likes of each one of these children. Sala 6 is the only one with the names Julian y Linda Slim.  Julian Slim,  I later discover is not one of Slim’s children, but his late brother and Linda, Julian’s wife.  This room boasts the only source of natural light from a large skylight.  The pieces of art here are sculptures by Rodin and Dali.

What impresses me the most about this museum is that it has an notable collection of art from all over the world and it is completely open to the public and free of charge to visit.  Mexicans can interact with works of art that perhaps they might not otherwise be able to see in person. There is a lot of criticism about Slim and his fortune here. However, while I was at the Soumaya Museum I couldn't help but feel overwhelmed and in awe of so much diversity in artistic experssion. There is even free internet and the bathrooms are impeccably clean and beautifully designed.  (These bathrooms are just phenomenal: wall to ceiling mirrors, a long marble sink with over a dozen faucets, .most public restrooms are never this nice).  Some of the artwork has small digital stamps next to their information cards that are recognized by Android devices and will give you more information about the art.  This is a great thing to do on a Saturday morning in Mexico City.  You can get coffee or hot chocolate in the waiting area on the ground floor.  After visiting Soumaya Museum, Polanco has a lot to offer as well with restaurants and shopping centers close by. 
Points to remember when visiting Soumaya Museum, Plaza Carso:
  •  Dress accordingly. Bring a sweater, it is chilly!
  • Know where to begin. Start at the top in Sala 6 and work your way down.
  • The more you know, the more you’ll enjoy it. Try and join one of the guided tours, it is worth it.
  •  Get inside information before visiting! Make sure to like the museum on Facebook or follow on Twitter.
  • Avoid stress and meltdowns if you are planning on taking children. As a mom, I recommend ages 10 years old and up. This museum is not suitable for younger children and they will get bored very quickly.  
Museo Soumaya Plaza Carso is located on Blvd. Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra 303 Col. Amplicacion Granada Mexico DF and it is open every day from 10:30am to 6:30pm.

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