Palacio de Bellas Artes

Arts Center in Mexico City

Image by stockcam Getty Images

Immense murals by world-famous Mexican artists dominate the top floors of this splendid white-marble palace – a concert hall and arts center commissioned by President Porfirio Díaz. Construction on the iconic building began in 1905 under Italian architect Adamo Boari, who favored neoclassical and art nouveau styles.

Complications arose as the heavy marble shell sank into the spongy subsoil, and then the Mexican Revolution intervened. Architect Federico Mariscal eventually finished the interior in the 1930s, utilizing the more modern art deco style.

On the 2nd floor are two early 1950s works by Rufino Tamayo: México de hoy (Mexico Today) and Nacimiento de la nacionalidad (Birth of Nationality), a symbolic depiction of the creation of the mestizo (mixed ancestry) identity.

At the west end of the 3rd floor is Diego Rivera’s famous El hombre en el cruce de caminos (Man at the Crossroads), originally commissioned for New York’s Rockefeller Center. The Rockefellers had the original destroyed because of its anti-capitalist themes, but Rivera re-created it here in 1934.

On the north side are David Alfaro Siqueiros’ three-part La nueva democracia (New Democracy) and Rivera’s four-part Carnaval de la vida mexicana (Carnival of Mexican Life). To the east is José Clemente Orozco’s La katharsis (Catharsis), depicting the conflict between humankind’s ‘social’ and ‘natural’ aspects.

The 4th-floor Museo Nacional de Arquitectura features changing exhibits on contemporary architecture. In addition, the palace stages outstanding temporary art exhibitions.

The renovated Bellas Artes theater is itself a masterpiece (though only viewable during performances), with a stained-glass curtain depicting the Valle de México. Based on a design by Mexican painter Gerardo Murillo (aka Dr Atl), it was assembled by New York jeweler Tiffany & Co from almost a million pieces of colored glass. The theater is the stage for seasonal opera and symphony performances and the Ballet Folklórico de México.

There are lofty views of the Palacio from the cafe terrace of the Sears building across the road.


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