Built atop the ruins of the Aztec capital Tenochtitlan (once dubbed by Spanish conquistadors as the “Venice of the New World”), Mexico City is a complex, historically rich metropolis with illustrious art credentials to boot. Here, muralists like Diego Rivera festooned the streets with politically-charged frescoes, Surrealist painters like Frida Kahlo fused the lush Mexican landscape with daring psychological portraiture, and architects like Luis Barragán espoused Modernism with the vibrancy of Central American aesthetics.
In recent years, the Mexican capital (affectionately referred to by locals as D.F., after its status as distrito federal or the federal district) has also gained traction as a must-visit destination for contemporary art. Thanks to an ambitious cohort of artists, gallerists, and collectors, world-class art spaces (from museums to galleries to project spaces) have proliferated across the city—and paved the way for two international art fairs. In February, ZsONA MACO, in its 13th year, and Material Art Fair, in its third, attract a high concentration of art-world impresarios from around the globe, galvanizing the Mexico City art community.
Left to right: Portrait of Chris Sharp courtesy of Chris Sharp; Portrait of Daniela Elbahara courtesy of Daniela Elbahara; Portrait of Anuar Maauad by Max Burkhalter, courtesy of Anuar Maauad.
As you plan your trip to D.F., whether for fair week or your regular cultural adventure, take note of the insights we’ve gleaned from three in-the-know locals. Below, Daniela Elbahara, co-founder of art gallery Yautepec and Material Art Fair; Chris Sharp, independent curator and co-founder of Lulu gallery; and Anuar Maauad, founder and director of Casa Maauad, bring you the art spaces, architectural feats, and taco joints you shouldn’t miss.
Downtown and Juárez
View of Mexico City by Pia Riverola.
The central districts of D.F. boast a diverse smattering of art and culture—both historic and up-and-coming—within a walkable radius.
A | Museo Nacional de Arte (MUNAL)
Tacuba 8, Centro Histórico
In the heart of the historic city center, MUNAL, Mexico’s national museum of art, houses work produced within the country’s borders between the second half of the 16th century and 1954. Masterworks by the likes of Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros, and Remedios Varo grace the walls of this behemoth, ornate Neoclassical building, set on a picturesque stone square.
B | Material Art Fair
Expo Reforma, Calle Morelos 67
This year, Material moves to Expo Reforma, a large, multi-level building offering plenty of real estate for the growing fair, which focuses on emerging practices. The “young, edgy satellite fair” comes highly recommended by Sharp.
C | MARSO Galería Arte Contemporáneo
Conceived by curator Sofía Mariscal, this gallery—which began as a non-profit curatorial initiative—continues to turn out risk-taking exhibitions focused on art made in, or responding to, the Central and Latin American context.
D | Arredondo \ Arozarena
Tucked behind an inviting white stucco facade, this ambitious gallery shows artists working in Mexico. According to Maauad, “They have been taking strong baby steps in the past five years and their program is flawless.”
E | Aeromoto
A teeny-tiny space with a big impact, Aeromoto looks like an airy, curated bookshop but is actually a public library that lends hard-to-find fiction, theory, and art tomes through an affordable membership program. Don’t miss their regular readings and talks, which host a range of authors, artists, and independent publishers.
Insider tips: Follow a day galavanting around Juárez with a visit to Bucardón (F | Donato Guerra 1) or Taberna Luciferina (G | Lucerna 34), both owned by art enthusiasts. Bucardón’s long communal table, where Mexico City’s creative community often gathers, is a great spot for a conversation and a mezcal. At Luciferina, take a seat at the glowing circular bar for a bite that will satisfy any palate.
And for a treasure trove of Mexican antiques and curios, head to La Lagunilla Market (H | on Calle Lopez Rayon, usually between Ignacio Allende and Comonfort) for its sprawling Sunday morning spread of vendors.
Roma and Condesa
View of the Jamaica flower market by Pia Riverola.
Adjacent to Juárez is Roma, a green, park-filled neighborhood boasting some of the city’s best restaurants, galleries, and nightlife.
A | Galería OMR
Calle Córdoba 100
With a more than 30-year history behind it, Galería OMR is one of Mexico City’s more renowned galleries, representing the likes of Jose Dávila, Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, and Pia Camil. This February, it moves to a stunning new building designed by architecture studio RAW in the spirit of Le Corbusier.
B | Galería Arróniz
Plaza Rio de Janeiro 53
C | Proyectos Monclova
What was once a rowdy pool hall is now Proyectos Monclova’s massive, luminous exhibition space, a must-see stop which hosts a mix of local and international talent, from Martin Soto Climent to Fred Sandback.
D | Lulu
Just a short walk south don’t miss Lulu, whose founders, artist Martin Soto Climent and curator Chris Sharp, invite emerging artists from around world to get creative with this tiny project space. The small scale certainly doesn’t stop artists like Michael E. Smith, Lucas Arruda, and Jenine Marsh from mounting ambitious takeovers.
Insider tips: Book a room at Hotel Condesa DF (E | Avenida Veracruz 102), or grab a drink on its plant-covered terrace, which overlooks the verdant gardens of Castillo de Chapultepec. Behind the hotel’s ornate Art Deco facade, you’ll find bright, buoyant interiors by India Mahdavi.
Food cannot and should not be avoided in Roma and Condesa. Some of the best eats in the neighborhood include Maximo Bistrot (F | Tonalá 133), which usually requires a reservation unless you’re lucky, or Lalo! (G | Zacatecas 173), located just around the corner and owned by the same chef. Maauad recommends La Docena (H | Obregón 31) for a leisurely sit-down meal. For more traditional fare, take Sharp’s advice and wander to Montejo (I | Benjamín Franklin 261-A), Cantina Riviera del Sur (J | Chiapas 174), or Los Parados (K | Monterrey 333). And for “a beer and amazing tacos,” Elbahara recommends El Califa (L | Altata 22).
View of Mexico City at sunset by Pia Riverola.
Just north of Roma and Juárez, the up-and-coming neighborhood of San Rafael is home to a host of project spaces and apartment galleries.
A | Casa Maauad
Ignacio Manuel Altamirano 20
Housed in a beautiful historic building (complete with a sunny, fern-draped patio), Casa Maauad has made a name for itself as a community-building residency program and exhibition space. Helmed by charismatic artist Anuar Maauad, the non-profit offers three-month residencies to artists, curators, and critics—and has become an influential site of cultural dialogue in Mexico City.
B | Lodos
García Icazbalceta 30
Run by a cohort of artists, curators, and writers, this curatorially-driven gallery is one of Elbahara’s must-sees. “Lodos is quite unique when it comes to what you regularly see in Mexico City—it takes more effort,” she notes. “It’s rewarding to learn about the young artists around the world through [director] Francisco [Cordero-Oceguera]’s novel eye.”
C | Galería Hilario Galguera
Francisco Pimentel 3
D | Yautepec
Melchor Ocampo 154-A
A visit to San Rafael isn’t complete without visiting this young gallery, unafraid to take risks and work with a roster of emerging artists.
Insider tips: El patio 77 (E | Calle Icazbalceta 77), the first eco-friendly bed and breakfast in Mexico City, comes highly recommended for a cozy stay.
And be sure to grab some cochinita pibil, mouth-watering slow-roasted pork, at Cochinita Power (F | Ignacio Manuel Altamirano 19). According to Maauad, it’s “the best cochinita pibil in the city”—and we believe him!
San Miguel Chapultepec
Views of the Chapultepec botanical gardens by Pia Riverola.
This sleepy, upscale colonia, filled with grand homes and streets named for philosophers and thinkers, is a stone’s throw from Roma but feels worlds away.
A | kurimanzutto
Gobernador Rafael Rebollar 94
Founded as an itinerant exhibition space by artist Gabriel Orozco and dealers Mónica Manzutto and José Kuri in the late 1990s, kurimanzutto has since grown into an internationally renowned gallery that has made a point of promoting Mexican artists. Now settled in a breathtaking permanent space (a former lumberyard and industrial bakery transformed by architect Alberto Kalach), their international roster includes powerhouse artists Adrián Villar Rojas, Damián Ortega, and Mariana Castillo Deball, among others.
Insider tip: By the light of the wood-fired pizza oven, recharge over a bite at Cancino (B | Gobernador Rafael Rebollar 95), located just across the street from kurimanzutto.
C | Galería Enrique Guerrero
General Juan Cano 103
2016 marks a new phase for this Mexico City contemporary art fixture—the nearly 20-year-old gallery will inaugurate a new space the same week of the art fairs.
D | Museo Tamayo, Museo Nacional de Antropología, and Museo de Arte Moderno
Bosque de Chapultepec
Head north to Bosque de Chapultepec, a sprawling park that once served as a sanctuary for Aztec rulers. It now houses two of the city’s must-see museums. Museo Tamayo, founded by artist and collector Rufino Tamayo in 1981, is now one of Mexico City’s oldest contemporary art institutions. Its tiered stone building, designed to reflect the city’s Pre-Columbian architectural history, hosts a rich permanent collection and tightly curated special exhibitions. For a deep dive into Mexico’s cultural history, spend some time in the treasure-filled galleries of the Museo Nacional de Antropología. And Museo de Arte Moderno, which houses one of the globe’s largest collections of contemporary art, sits just across the park’s main thoroughfare, Paseo de la Reforma.
View of Polanco by Pia Riverola.
Just north of Chapultepec, this bustling financial district moves at a faster pace than its neighboring colonias—it’s also home to several of the city’s most impressive art hubs and architectural landmarks.
A | Museo Jumex
Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra 303
In its new David Chipperfield-designed home, this museum shows its contemporary art collection—one of Latin America’s best—alongside a robust cast of curated shows. Up now, don’t miss their comprehensive survey of Latin American art, “Under the Same Sun.” “I am particularly looking forward to seeing how the program of [curator in chief] Julieta González shapes up—especially the upcoming Ulises Carrión retrospective,” notes Sharp.
B | Museo Soumaya
Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra 303
Just next door, the collection of billionaire businessman Carlos Slim makes its home in Mexican starchitect Fernando Romero’s monumental, futuristic structure.
Insider tip: Elbahara’s picks for a day in Polanco include bites at Nobu (C | Anatole France 74), Tori Tori (D | Anatole France 71-B), or, for the best oysters in town, Au Pied de Cochon (E | Hotel Presidente Intercontinental, Campos Eliseos 218).
F | ZsONA MACO
Centro Banamex, Sala D, Avenida Conscripto 311
Since its founding 13 years ago by intrepid director Zélika García, ZsONA MACO has grown into an international art fair that draws galleries and collectors from around the world. Under the artistic direction of Daniel Garza-Usabiaga, formerly curator at the Museo de Arte Moderno, the fair’s five sections (General, New Proposals, ZsONA MACO Sur, ZsONA MACO Design, and Modern Art) are sure to please.
Insider tip: Take some extra cash to the fair and plan to stay the entire day. The exhibition hall is located nowhere near restaurants or cafes, but the fair itself has a taco stand and outdoor seating area for a dose of fresh air. After the fair, take advantage of its proximity to the horse races, located next to the convention center.
Coyoacán and University City
Views of the UNAM Botanical Garden and Frida House by Pia Riverola.
The colonial neighborhoods of Coyoacán and University City at the southern end of Mexico City are well worth the trek. But be warned: Don’t come or go during rush hour, or the trip could take upwards of an hour.
A | Museo Universitario Arte Contemporaneo, MUAC
Avenida Insurgentes Sur 30000
A city unto itself, the university UNAM is home to a contemporary art museum recommended by all our insiders. “Their museography is always impeccable and their buildings are amazing,” notes Elbahara.
Insider tip: Drop by La Guadalupana (B | Avenida Insurgentes Sur 952) for dinner and a drink in the historic neighborhood of Coyoacán.
C | Museo Frida Kahlo
Let your final stop be the former home of what some would consider Mexico’s most influential artist—the great Frida Kahlo. This lush, colorful oasis feels like one of Kahlo’s impassioned paintings come to life.