Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Museo Soumaya: A cultural and architectural treasure of Mexico

Carlos Slim Helú was born in Mexico City in 1940, the fifth of six children to Lebanese immigrants who ran successful small businesses in Mexico City. When Carlos was 24, he accompanied his mother to visit their neighbors and met the love of his life, 15-year-old Soumaya Domit Gemayel, also of Lebanese origin. They married two years later, had six children, and built their business empire Grupo Carso, a name derived from the first letters of both their names: Carlos and Soumaya.

Unfortunately, Soumaya had been battling kidney disease and despite having had a kidney transplant, Soumaya died in 1999. Carlos Slim opened Museo Soumaya at Plaza Carso in 2011 as a monument in her honor to share their private art collection with the world in line with her philanthropic principles.

Museo Soumaya is a true titan in preserving and displaying world art history and masterpieces spanning 30 centuries. This private museum houses an astounding 70,000 works of art by Monet, Picasso, Degas, Van Gogh, Salvador Dali, Degas, Renoir, Matisse, Leonora Carrington, Rodin, Botticelli, Michelangelo, Diego Rivera, Rufino Tamayo, David Alfaro Siqueiros, Miró, El Greco, and many other timeless masters.

Inaugurated in 2011, the building has become an iconic landmark, predominantly recognizable for its unique and glistening honeycomb façade. Built by Carlos Slim’s son-in-law, Mexican architect Fernando Romero, the building is a shiny asymmetric structure inspired by Rodin sculptures. Rising 150 feet high and covered by 16,000 hexagonal aluminum tiles, it is designed as a rotating rhomboid, with the only visible opening being its entrance. 

On the inside, the museum is divided into 6 gallery floors seamlessly connected by a surrounding walkway. The recommended way to enjoy this astounding museum is by taking the elevator to the top floor and walking down the spiral ramp comfortably.

Top floor at Museo Soumaya. (Photo Fundación Carlos Slim)

The collection is a remarkable blend of diverse artworks, encompassing pieces from various periods and artists and predominantly featuring Mexican art from the 19th and 20th centuries and European art from the 15th to the 20th centuries. It also displays the world’s most extensive assortment of pre-Hispanic and colonial coins and a vast array of letters, historical manuscripts, and religious artifacts. 

Furthermore, the museum prominently displays the most extensive collection of sculptures by Auguste Rodin outside of France, including his iconic masterpieces, “The Thinker” and “The Gates of Hell.”

Museo Soumaya offers one of the world’s most significant private art collections, encompassing over thirty centuries of artistic expression. Visitors experience a treasure trove of Western art featuring renowned masterpieces by recognized artists and anonymous creators whose contributions have shaped art history. 

Spanning an impressive 30 centuries of artistic evolution and widely recognized as one of its most comprehensive and diverse collections, the museum boasts archaeological relics spanning the pre-classic, classic, and postclassic Mesoamerican periods, alongside exquisite Asian ivory artifacts. The collection is a testament to the breadth of human creativity, including a substantial assembly of European Avant-garde works and the remarkable personal collection of Lebanese-American writer, poet, and visual artist Khalil Gibran. 

The museum also houses a captivating collection of European and Novohispanic artworks created by luminaries such as El Greco, Artemisia Gentileschi, and Peter Paul Rubens, and a splendid journey through Impressionist works extending to the avant-garde movement, featuring masterpieces by renowned artists like Monet, Van Gogh, and Joan Miro, and sculptures by Salvador Dalí. Museo Soumaya displays the only works by Vincent Van Gogh in Mexico. It also houses works by the Mexican masters José María Velasco, Agustín Arrieta, Dr. Atl, Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, and David Alfaro Siqueiros, among others.

This assemblage artfully revives Mexican plastic arts from the New Spanish Old Masters, the 19th-century Mexican art scene, and the era of Independent Mexico. Beyond paintings and sculptures, Museo Soumaya also invites visitors to explore numismatics, textiles, applied arts, an extensive photographic compilation, and the historical archives of the Galas de México printing press.

The first floor recently revealed two new acquisitions, exact replicas of Pieta and David by Michelangelo Buonarroti, the most famous sculptures of the Renaissance. Created on a 1:1 scale to the originals, the sculptures in Museo Soumaya were chiseled by a group of highly skilled Italian sculptors from a single piece of veinless marble sourced from the same Carrara quarry in the Tuscany region of Italy used by Michelangelo.

Museo Soumaya represents a colossal endeavor driven by Carlos Slim’s visionary mission: to ensure that the essential and cherished aspects of culture are accessible to all. It stands as a testament to his commitment to nurturing and advancing human potential by enriching and sharing the histories of art, world cultures, and Mexican history. He believes that culture should be a universal and shared inheritance, accessible to all who seek to engage with the beauty and significance of art.

Hailed as one of the most beautiful museums in the world, Museo Soumaya is designed as an inclusive space for people with different physical, intellectual, and psycho-emotional abilities. It is entirely accessible by wheelchair, and services include audio guides and tactile tours for the blind and visually impaired, access to guide dogs, sign language interpreters, and special tours for people on the autism spectrum. 

Museo Soumaya Plaza Carso is on Boulevard Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra in Mexico City. Admission is always free in line with its non-profit guidelines, and doors are open from 10:30 to 18:30 every day of the year.  

Sandra is a Mexican writer and translator based in San Miguel de Allende who specializes in mental health and humanitarian aid. She believes in the power of language to foster compassion and understanding across cultures. She can be reached at: [email protected] 

Have something to say? Paid Subscribers get all access to make & read comments.
Closeup of an ancient Maya vase with red figures painted on clay

Woman returns US $4 thrift store vase to Mexico after realizing it’s an ancient Maya artifact

The vase that Anna Lee Dozier bought at a Maryland thrift store turned out to be worth far more than she suspected.

Find joy in life with simple guidelines from Toltec philosophy

Move over Jordan Peterson, these are the Mexican rules for life that everyone needs to know.
The skull fossil known as Chimalhuacan Man It's black with some filled-in holes in the skull with an orange substance that may be plastic or clay.

Prehistoric human skeleton ‘Yotzin’ could be oldest from Valley of Mexico

The nearly complete skeleton is at least one of the oldest, and could indeed be the oldest human remains ever found in the Valley of Mexico.