Great art tends to spring from great cities. For any number of reasons, the right intersection of time and place forms a veritable maternity ward of artistic creation. Think Paris in the 1920s, or New York in the 1940s and then again in the 1970s. London and San Francisco in the 1960s. Tokyo in the 1980s, then Berlin after the fall of the Wall. And now Mexico City is poised to be one of the world’s great artistic hotspots of the 2020s.
This is no hearsay—I’ve experienced it firsthand. Luck has allowed me to spend significant stints in of some of the world’s artistic capitals, and having just wrapped up a year in Mexico City, I can report firsthand that CDMX is a creative powerhouse.
A Legacy of Creativity
Mexico City has a long and storied history of providing home and inspiration to artists, perhaps most notably during the inter-war period when Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera were arguably the reigning queen and king of the scene.
A visit to the now-Frida Kahlo Museum in her then-Casa Azul gives an indication of the vibrance of the era. Ornately decorated to the hilt, filled to this day with an array of artistic equipment, Casa Azul has become something of a modern Mecca of art, with artists from all over the world making the pilgrimage to walk its grounds and glean inspiration.
While the careers of Kahlo and Rivera perhaps represent the city’s artistic historic high point in terms of notoriety, Mexico City has never had any shortage of great art. Today it’s enjoying a resurgence of popularity for many reasons.
Affordable for Artists
Artists tend to struggle financially, especially during the early, aspirational part of their careers. This is why they’ve always been drawn to cities and neighborhoods with lower costs of living.
It’s no secret that the likes of New York, London, San Francisco, and other traditional artistic hotbeds are becoming evermore expensive, which has priced out a lot of up-and-coming artists. Mexico City, on the other hand, remains comparatively cheap.
The same apartment that rents for $3,000 in Brooklyn can easily go for a third of that in Mexico City’s hip Roma or Condesa neighborhoods. A meal of tasty Mexican street food costs around two or three dollars, while a thrifty artist can save even more by grocery shopping at one of the inexpensive produce and meat markets.
Looking for a bit of inspiration? A ticket to Musee d’Orsay in Paris will run you €14, while entrance at Mexico City’s Modern Art Museum costs 70 pesos—that’s around €3,25.
An Artistic Atmosphere
While we’re on the subject of inspiration, Mexico City is rich with it.
Museums abound, from the major art institutions like the Museo de Arte Moderno (where you’ll find a wealth of renowned modern Mexican artists), the Tamayo (home of an ever-changing series of contemporary installations), the Soumaya (a building that is a work of art in itself), or Palacio de Bellas Artes (where you can see some of Diego Rivera’s greatest murals for free), to the bizarre, niche museums (of torture, of the Inquisition, of wax works, and so on), to the abundance of historic culture packed into the Museo Nacional de Antropología; you could visit a new museum every week for three years without repeating yourself.
Outside the museums you’ll find an abundance of public art.
Elaborate, often stunningly-executed street art and murals are all over the place. (Speaking of executed, perhaps no neighborhood in the city has better street art than Guerrero—but don’t go exploring it after dark. Or too close to dark. Or by yourself. Because if you want to see the old-school, dangerous Mexico City, this is it.)
As I was saying, public art abounds. Outdoor art markets are omnipresent, as are parks featuring works of art that are sometimes astoundingly good. Most noteworthy is Chapultepec—a massive park where you’ll find statues, the Modern Art and Tamayo museums, a gorgeous botanical garden, the zoo, live music, a castle, and so on and so forth.
For all of the above reasons and more, Mexico City has a lively, growing art scene.
Everywhere you go you’ll find artists showing their work in increasingly renowned galleries like the House of Gaga or Kurimanzutto. Live music is plentiful both indoors and out. It’s common to see film crews working at locations all over town.
If you do come to CDMX, it’s important to know where to go.
The heart of the hip, expat scene can be found in the shoulder-to-shoulder neighborhoods of Roma and Condesa. Here you’ll find the densest collection of the city’s hottest restaurants and bars, many of which are showing works by local and expat artists, especially when you near the lovely Parque Mexico.
To the northwest on the other side of Chapultepec is Polanco—an upscale district with plenty of galleries, museums, and chic restaurants.
The Zocalo in the city center is the location of many of the most historic sites, and its here where holiday festivities tend to reach their peak. Here is where you’ll find some of the best examples of Mexican architecture and ruins dating back to the Aztecs.
Head south and you’ll find Coyoacan, home of the Museo Frida Kahlo as well as a healthy collection of art, food, jewelry, and craft markets, and other lively goings on.
But perhaps the best way to get a sense of Mexico City’s artistry is by walking down Reforma which runs through the heart of everything. It’s here that you’ll find the renowned statues of the Angel of Independence and Diana the Huntress. It’s here that you’ll pass through the widely varying architecture—some good, some bad, all of it uniquely Mexico City—and design spanning generations of the city’s evolution. It’s here that you’ll find street art, musicians, parades, traffic, corrupt cops, street food, and a million other things that give the city its singular flavor.
And it’s Reforma that will lead to you Chapultepec, where you should immediately enter the Museo del Arte Moderno and spend some time perusing the sculpture garden of abstract art.
But pace yourself. It’s a big city, there is a vast quantity of art to enjoy, and the creativity is only expanding.