Five years ago when he opened Museo Soumaya, Carlos Slim Helú was the world’s richest man. According to Forbes, he slipped to #4 in 2016. Museo Soumaya is in Mexico City. Ruth & I were told it was hard to get to. People on the street gave us incredibly wrong directions, but on our one Monday afternoon there, it was virtually the only museum in Mexico City that was opened. It’s free since Slim, who made his fortune in telecommunications, has become a major philanthropist. Slim’s private collection is listed under culture among his Foundation’s many projects. His museo, which was swarming with awed, silent Mexicans who seemed to appreciate this gift, is not one of the world’s great museums. But is it worth seeing? Definitely.
The building itself is interesting. Six stories tall, visitors circle from level to level inside like they do in New York’s Guggenheim. With some justification, the exterior is being compared to the Guggenheim designed by Frank Gehry in Spain. Outside, Soumaya’s soaring 16 million aluminum hexagons reminded me of a tsunami. Inside, the art ranged from dreadful, a copy of Michelangelo’s Pieta prominently displayed on some steps near the entrance, to sublime, two paintings by one of my favorite artists Joaquín Sorolla.
Ruth floated from floor to floor. I began at the top where there was a routine collection of Venice paintings. “Bad art, no names except for Canaletto, not my favorite artist,” I wrote in my notebook. I did, however, find it clever that quotes about Venice from famous writers were scattered about. Scenes from films made there, like The Talented Mr. Ripley, were attracting a small audience. And then I came upon a surprising, uncharacteristic Dali painting of Venice.
Admiring the building far more than the art, I circled down to the next level. On the wall was a timeline, all in Spanish, ending in 2011 and explaining the revitalization of the Centro Historico where the Museo Soumaya is located.
The next level contained many truly great works by major artists, like Sorolla, and my general criticism began to give way to cautious respect. The next level down was a lot of typical religious art, but then I came upon some fine El Grecos and a DaVinci that made me wonder what the man worth 50 billion dollars paid for Madonna of the Yarnwinder. And so on.
Opening daily at 10:30, the Museo Soumaya is not on many maps. In fact, I was surprised to find it on the mapa I bought at our hotel. No public transportation is near this museum. Taking a taxi in Mexico City is said to be risky, but it’s the best way to get to Soumaya. Taxis outside hotels have a reputation for charging non-Spanish-speaking-tourists a lot more than locals. Ruth and I actually jumped out of one taxi when the fare announced by the driver, 140 pesos, was clearly ridiculous. Uber, not a surprise, is increasingly popular in Mexico City.