Ever since pre-Hispanic times, the Mexican people have shown an innate talent for artistic representation and a keen eye for color. From the awesome sculptures and frescoes of the ancients through the great muralists of the 20th century to the cutting-edge experimentation of today, art is one of Mexico’s greatest gifts to the world.
Fancy a dose of creative inspiration, Mexican style? Take the following artistic itinerary and you'll be planning your own masterpiece in no time.
Mexican royalty – Frida Kahlo & Diego Rivera
Explore both Kahlo’s and Rivera’s world views at Mexico City’s Museo Dolores Olmedo Patiño. Other good places to see Kahlo’s anguished, surreal self-portraits up close are the Museo de Arte Moderno, and the Museo Frida Kahlo, where she was born, lived and died. You'll find Rivera’s ambitious murals of Mexican history and identity at Secretaría de Educación Pública and the Palacio Nacional.
Artistic afterlife – death never looked so good
A joyful celebration of death and the dearly departed, Mexico's Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead) perpetuates the philosophy that death isn't the end, but rather the continuation of life in a parallel world. Aguascalientes’ unique Museo de los Muertos is a fascinating artistic record of the country's fascination with death, with everything from toys to skeleton figures and canvases, historical and contemporary. It’s colorful, humorous and almost makes dying look appealing.
Stoned – Baja's stunning rock art
Even before they had houses, Mexicans were artists of genius. The petroglyphs of land and sea creatures, warfare and rituals in Baja California’s Sierra de San Francisco, preserved by the dry climate, are among the world’s finest collections of rock paintings. Ochre, red, black and white in color, the ancient art remains shrouded in mystery. Some researchers believe the paintings depict religious rites, hunting rituals or warfare; others suggest they are warnings or messages for neighboring tribes. In recognition of its cultural importance, the Sierra de San Francisco has been declared a Unesco World Heritage Site.
Oaxaca – crucible of talent
The city of Oaxaca is one of Mexico’s creative melting pots. Get a taste for the new at contemporary galleries like the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo or the happening Instituto de Artes Gráficas de Oaxaca, and be amazed by the inspiration of ancient artisans at the unforgettable Museo Rufino Tamayo.
Cacaxtla – mural magic
Archaeologists have yet to determine the identity of the muralists responsible for the magnificent frescoes at Cacaxtla, an impressive ancient site within day-tripping distance of Mexico City. Many of the symbols clearly derive from the Mexican highlands, and yet a Mayan influence from southeastern Mexico appears in all of them. This hybrid style is unique to Cacaxtla's murals, and the subject of much speculation. The Mural de la Batalla (c. AD 700), depicting a battle between fierce warriors clad in jaguar skins and feathers, is a highlight not only for its artistic quality but for the glimpse it offers of Mexico's distant, dramatic past.
Say adios to monochrome monotony and ¡hola! to technicolor travel with Lonely Planet's latest Mexico guidebook.
This article was refreshed in June 2012