Here’s PART II of a three part series of photographs from my visit to Old San Juan – my first visit to that part of the island in over 20 years. And I didn’t come alone. Accompanying me was my first steady “girlfriend” in the four years since my wife passed away in late 2018. We’ve been happily dating since November of 2022 but a weekend getaway will put any budding relationship to the test. Would it bring us closer together – or would it all end in tears?
If you read PART I of the series, you can safely hazard a guess that our first days in Old San Juan went very well. There was, however, one thing that any couple who comes to San Juan should do – and that we had yet to do…
Hike El Yunque National Forest? No.
Go parasailing off the coast of Isla Verde beach? No.
Snorkeling around Culebra Island? Not exactly.
Visit the Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico? Yeah, that.
I’m an art museum nerd. Anybody who knows me knows that. It’s pretty much the first thing I look for when I’m traveling. And I’ve been to quite a few, including the impressive Museo de Arte de Ponce in Puerto Rico. But never the one in San Juan. Now, I used to have to drag my wife and daughter to art museums whenever we traveled before they got hip to the whole art thing. Sure my new ladyfriend was cool about accompanying me to the museum, but would I hear, “Uh, can we go now?” 10 minutes after walking into the joint? Needless to say, there was a lot at stake.
The Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico, (abbreviated MAPR) is located in Santurce, a barrio of San Juan. It features 18 exhibition halls covering 130,000 square feet and is located in a historic building, formerly occupied by the San Juan Municipal Hospital.
The museum building, designed by architect William H. Schimmelpfennig and built in 1920, is the remaining building in the former ruined complex of the San Juan Municipal Hospital. The building served as a hospital until 1966 when most of its body was moved to the newly inaugurated Centro Médico de Río Piedras (Río Piedras Medical Center). Afterwards it served as office space for the Puerto Rico Department of Transportation and Public Works until 1975.
The idea behind the Puerto Rico Museum of Art dates back to 1995, when the Puerto Rico Tourism Company with funding by Banco Gubernamental de Fomento, agreed to restore and rehabilitate the former San Juan Municipal Hospital. On July 18, 1996, the Government of Puerto Rico officially unveiled the Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico project.
And on June 30, 2000, the inauguration of the Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico took place with its inaugural exhibition “Treasures of Puerto Rican Painting”. In 2011, the museum got an upgraded façade and celebrated the opening of its new Plaza of the Arts on September 17, 2011. And then on April 1st of 2023, I showed up with my new girlfriend in one hand, and my new Sony A7RV attached to the Tamron 17-28mm f/2.8 lens in the other. Would we all walk out together hand in hand? Scroll through the photographs to find out…
“La Plena” (1952-54) by Puerto Rican artist Rafael Tufiño (known locally as the “Painter of the People”) measures 15′ x 30′ and is composed 20 masonite panels.
“Hasta que la muerte nos separe (Till death do us apart)” (1994) by Puerto Rican artist Anaida Hernández denounces gender violence. The installation features the cases of 100 women, victims of their consensual partners between January 1990 and June 1993.
“Éxodo II*” by Puerto Rican artist Rafael Trelles
A portrait of Luis Munõz Marín (1977), the father of modern Puerto Rico and the first democratically elected governor of the island by artist Francisco Rodón
Cuban artist Ernesto Pujol’s “Formación” (1998) is accompanied by audio of soldiers marching
From (L-R) Carlos Raquel Rivera’s “La industria” (1958), Augusto Marín’s “La agricultura” (1960) and Rafael Tufiño’s “La construcción” (1959). All three of these Puerto Rican artists are considered some of the most important of the generation active in the 1950s.
“Las islas del encanto” features a selection of 59 pieces in oil on canvas, which revisit memories of iconic structures, interiors, and landscapes.
Approximately 2.5 acres make up the Sculpture Botanical Garden which features a pond which is home to Koi fishes and aquatic plants. These environment is also home to 13 sculptures which are located in harmony with the scenery. Time constraints didn’t allow us to venture too far outside the indoor galleries but we’ll be back…
“900-50-80” (1978) by Olga Albizu, an abstract expressionist painter from Ponce, Puerto Rico and the first woman dedicated to abstraction in Puerto Rico.
“Mi mente, mi arma letal” (1996) by Puerto Rican artist Carlos Rivera Villafañe
Embroidery on canvas make up “La torera” (2012) by Puerto Rican artist Elsa María Meléndez
“Procesión” (1998) by artist Roberto Moya
“Untitled” by Puerto Rican artist René Santos
(l-R) “La Virgen y el Niño con San Juan Bautista” (ca. 1620) by Flemish painter Abraham Janssens and “La Virgen del Café” (1981-1983) by painter Marta Pérez
“Julia en la cocina” (1941) by Puerto Rican artist Miguel Pou Becerra
“Tener es no obtener y viceversa” (1990) by Puerto Rican artist Rafael Ferrer
“Personajes y pájaros con un perro” by Spanish painter Joan Miró
(L-R) “El Pan Nuestro” (2007) by Puerto Rican artist Cacheila Soto González is a tribute to 1905’s “El Pan Nuestro” by another Puerto Rican artist, Ramón Frade. On the right, “Lorenza, la lavandera” (1939) by Puerto Rican artist Luisa Géigel.
Artist working on papier-mâché vejigante masks at the museum’s Centro de Innovación Educativa
“Autopista hacia el sur” (1974) by painter and printmaker Myrna Báez, considered one of the most important visual artists in Puerto Rico.
“La ocupación de Utuado en 1898” (1945) by Puerto Rican artist Julio Tomás Martínez
From top to bottom, “Música y danza” (1974) by painter Ralph DeRomero
Untitled & undated painting by Spanish painter Ángel Botello, considered one of the greatest Latin American post-modern artists.
(L-R) “Acontecimiento con Fotógrafo” (1975) by Puerto Rican artist Rufino Silva and “El Piquete” (1960) by Puerto Rican artist Francisco “Fran” Cervoni
“Borges or The Aleph” (1973-1980) by Puerto Rican artist Francisco Rodón
“Bacanal con Sileno” (third quarter of the seventeenth century) by Dutch artist Gerrit van Bronckhorst
“Las hijas del gobernador Don Ramon de Castro” (1797) by José Campeche y Jordán, the most significant Puerto Rican painter of portraits and religious imagery.
“El cuarto de Vitín” (2004) by Puerto Rican artist Stanley Coll
Here’s Diana enjoying “Ananas Nūmĕn Caelestis” (2016-2017) by Puerto Rican artist Axel Ruiz. And yeah, she really, really enjoyed our visit to the museum. So with our weekend getaway having been a great success and her passing the art museum “test”, I’m starting to get the feeling that I might just be on to something really good.
The Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico wasn’t just a good art museum, it was a remarkable art museum. Hats off to the museum’s curators for their excellent artist selections. Heck, they have secured future visits to art museums without me having to promise an expensive dinner afterwards. I mean, had the museum’s offerings been underwhelming (or straight out sucked) who knows what dark clouds might have begun to form over the future of this budding relationship? But now, all I see are blue skies ahead.
My final post from our trip will feature photographs from a dynamic performance by Escuela de Bomba y Plena Doña Caridad Brenes de Cepeda in San Juan’s historic Plaza de Armas. Don’t miss it…