National Museum of Mexican Art
The National Museum of Mexican Art is one of Chicago’s best, yet most under-appreciated art galleries. Located in the Pilsen neighborhood on the city’s South Side, the museum is nestled into the most Mexican-inhabited neighborhood in Chicago, just next to the sprawling Harrison Park.
Opened to the public in 1987, the museum originated as the Mexican Fine Arts Museum. Over 20 years later, the museum now boasts a new name, but maintains its dedication to showcasing the beauty and depth of Mexican art and culture. The National Museum of Mexican Art is now the only of its kind in the nation certified by the American Association of Museums.
The museum boasts several galleries, some of which hold permanent collections while others showcase temporary exhibits. Pieces range from ancient Mexican art to present-day, and include works from both unknown and world-famous artists. The current featured exhibit (running until August 2010) explores the influence that Mexican muralists have had on artists from the United States. Entitled Translating Revolution: U.S. Artists Interpret Mexican Muralists, the collection contains works from American artists who traveled to Mexico pursuing art, some of whom stayed a lifetime and became Mexican citizens. Pieces include photography, prints, and paintings with a wide range of subject matters. Art lovers will enjoy seeing the work of the Tres Grandes (The Three “Big Ones”), Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, and David Alfaro Siqueiros. The museum boasts pieces by these three artists who became famous for their murals and socially and politically inspired art. You may also have the fortune of seeing the work of Frida Kahlo, one of the most influential Mexican painters of the 20th century.
While the exhibit offers a new angle on the influence of Mexican art, I much prefer the museum’s permanent collections. My favorite collection resides in the Rastros y Cronicas gallery and displays several mixed-media pieces, including woven tapestries, sculptures made from beer glasses, and handmade crafts.
The Mexicandidad: Our Past is Present gallery is a vibrant space boasting traditional Mexican art and handcrafted works. I’m a big fan of this section of the museum, in which you are led through connected rooms all filled with unique pieces. The wide variety of pieces cover themes ranging from family culture to the femicide in Ciudad Juarez. And though some of the issues addressed are depressing and very serious, there remains an optimistic feel to the art. Between the lively artwork and the colorfully painted walls, visitors can’t help but feel the energy that pervades Mexican culture. Intricately beaded tapestries and enormous murals hang from walls, while a photography piece depicts the diversity within the typical Mexican family. There’s even a “Day of the Dead” exhibit featuring traditional skeleton sculptures.
The museum also hosts performance arts events and concerts, including two annual festivals. The Sor Juana Festival focuses on the achievements of Mexican women, featuring all female performances.
Want to get more involved? The museum offers occasional art classes, including a summer session aimed at muralism. A children’s camp also provides art and culture classes. Check out the museum’s calendar to learn more about classes and workshops or for information on guided tours.
Location: 1852 W. 19th Street
L: Pink Line (18th Street)
Bus: #9, 50
For driving directions, click here
Admission Prices & Hours
Tuesday – Saturday, 10am -5pm
Closed on Mondays & Various Holidays (Check the website for more info)