El Museo de Arte Popular (MAP)

For those even slightly intrigued by the vibrant folk art and crafts of Mexico, prepare to be mesmerized. El Museo de Arte Popular is centrally located–one long block south of Parque Alameda–and boasts a terrific but not overwhelming permanent collection of various craft pieces, both old and new. MAP is designed to both visually enthrall visitors and to inform them about Mexican folk art traditions. The many concise exhibit labels provide relevant contextual information (about the medium, subject matter, artistic style and technique, or theme and folklore) pertaining to the works, which are grouped through a mix of thematic and stylistic criteria; halls are dedicated to particular subjects, such as “Lo cotidiano” (everyday items and subjects), “Lo fantástico” (magical subjects), “Lo religioso (religious items and subjects). My favorite hall, the one titled “Lo fantástico,” was further subdivided into the sections “Arboles de la vida” (trees of life), “Diablos” (devils), “Alebrijes,” “Nahuales,” “Sirenas” (mermaids), and “Fauna,” each subsection featuring rich descriptions of the mythology and folklore corresponding to the theme.

The objects on display range from textiles, large sculptures, small figurines, to masks, and are composed of a variety of materials, including wood, glass, ceramic, fabrics, and wire. Collectively, the pieces and the thoughtful accompanying explanations allow visitors to piece together a modest understanding of the folklore underpinning belief systems, ways of making sense of the world that originated in the times of the Aztecs and persist today. Oddly, not all object labels give a sense of the time period in which the object was created. But this ends up creating the sense of a continuum throughout history and it further demonstrates the reverence for traditional folk techniques that are preserved and enlivened by artisans still practicing these techniques in Mexican villages today.

The museum also organizes other programming, such as special events, concerts, and technical workshops–some designed to teach children about folk art production and others to facilitate exchange of ideas among practicing craft artists. Perhaps the biggest event is the contest and parade of monumental alebrijes (wooden sculptures of animals and other figures, often brightly colored and intricate) which is to be held in 2015 on October 17th. After an engrossing museum visit, I can’t wait for the parade!

Additional Information to Plan a Visit 

The museum was first opened its doors to visitors in 2007, so it is a relatively young institution.

The gift shop is a fantastic place to buy high quality craft souvenirs, certainly nicer (and pricier) than the mass produced trinkets and textiles at Mercado de Artesanías La Ciudadela, the most famous destination for tourists to pick up craft goods and other souvenirs.

The central courtyard-atrium area of the museum is sometimes outfitted with sound equipment, and when bands are playing, the music flows through the galleries, creating an inviting and transcendent environment to view the artwork.

While the museum content is directed to visitors of all ages, younger visitors tend to dominate. On weekdays, the galleries can fill up with school groups, and on the weekends, there are storytelling activities in some galleries, with children so packed together and forming a dense semicircle or full circle, enveloping the animated storyteller. Although it can get crowded, try not to be turned off; these young visitors often have refreshing response to the pieces and remind us all of the playfulness of these works.

Admission is 40 MXP and free on Sundays for all; no photography permit needed.

It is closed Mondays and open T, Th-Sun 10am-6pm and W 10am-9pm.

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