Spend time visiting with most art gallery owners in Puerto Vallarta, and a kind of oral history of our city’s long-lived visual arts scene begins to emerge, well suited for the interested layman. However, taking in such a diverse cultural legacy during a short-term visit to Puerto Vallarta might prove to be daunting. After all, the first recorded art exhibition in Puerto Vallarta dates back to 1952.
Sixty years later, and thanks to the art enthusiasts, gallery owners and artists who set the wheels in motion early on, the visual arts scene in Puerto Vallarta has established itself as an intrinsic allure for visitors and locals. From exquisitely detailed Mexican folk art to museum-quality paintings, the choices are as limitless as the color spectrum available to create them.
For many years, Puerto Vallarta’s art scene has been ensconced in El Centro, the downtown area, where regularly scheduled events such as the Historic Center Art Walk have welcomed art enthusiasts to saunter from gallery to gallery. It is here that time-honored galleries such as Galería Pacífico and Galerie des Artistes first opened their doors to the public 24 and 21 years ago, respectively. Not only have these institutions sought to represent Mexican and international artists of the finest caliber, their choices have been as eclectic as their relationships with some artists have been long-lasting.
For example, Munich-born Evelyne Boren, who had an aquatic career that included performing underwater stunts in blockbuster films prior to attaining worldwide recognition for her impressionistic depictions of everyday life, began traveling to Puerto Vallarta on vacation in the ’50s, ultimately putting down roots in nearby Sayulita. Collaborating with Galerie des Artistes since day one, in 2012 she celebrates 40 uninterrupted years of exhibiting her work in Puerto Vallarta. And Pacífico owner Gary Thompson has forged equally strong bonds, both professionally and personally, with some of the artists he represents, such as the late Ramiz Barquet, whose works are now permanently associated with Puerto Vallarta’s Malecón, where they are discussed at length, along with others, during Thompson’s weekly public sculpture tours.
If there is one trait that all art galleries in Puerto Vallarta’s El Centro share, it is their proximity to Puerto Vallarta’s Malecón. And despite the fact that shifting economic trends worldwide have had an adverse effect on them, many of their owners have high expectations that the recently remodeled landmark will inspire an increasing number of visitors and locals to discover the many restaurants and businesses located within walking distance, galleries included, of course.
Along with Puerto Vallarta’s urban development, art galleries have proliferated in other parts of the city, as well as neighboring towns such as Sayulita and San Pancho in Riviera Nayarit, where they are carving out their own niches in the region’s art scene with unique offerings and art walks of their own. In town, art galleries such as Gallería Dante, Contempo and The Genius of Paco have established their own niche in colonia Emiliano Zapata, one of Puerto Vallarta’s most diverse neighborhoods, a varied mix of fine gift shops and gourmet restaurants seamlessly sharing sidewalk space with traditional homes and businesses owned by Vallartense families for generations. And because of their proximity to one another, Dante, Contempo and nearby Galería Puerco Azul participate along with other businesses in the ongoing Southside Shuffle, the neighborhood’s own special evening event, providing visitors an ideal opportunity to enjoy their offerings.
Although Gallería Dante is not new on Puerto Vallarta’s gallery scene (the family-owned and -operated institution opening its doors in 1995), it has recently created anDANTE, a special gallery within the premises dedicated to the work of Guillermo Gómez, Oscar Zamarripa and Israel Zzepda, three celebrated, museum-quality sculptors from the state of Jalisco who, collectively, have been exhibited in Puerto Vallarta for 78 years.
And just as we take pride in art galleries in Puerto Vallarta that have stood the test of time, the previously mentioned The Genius of Paco and Contempo, along with Colectika and Míralo north of the Cuale, which opened only in the last few years, offer an individual vision as unique as it is evident. Not only does The Genius of Paco feature the largest collection of paintings by Puerto Vallarta’s Golden Age artists, such as Manuel Lepe, Ada Colorina, Javier Niño and Ramón Barragan, owners Frank and Gail Rudin, originally from New York, commission and purchase works by local artists and feature studio space alongside their exhibition areas, giving visitors the unique opportunity to connect with the artists as they create their works.
As its name indicates, Contempo not only specializes in contemporary art but also focuses its attention on a new generation of Mexican artists—interestingly and without planning, most are women—including sculptor Mariza Vázquez, whose enormous sea urchin installation is prominently featured on the Malecón, not far from Vitea restaurant. The artists represented by Contempo, along with the majority at The Genius of Paco, Dante and Pacífico, are Mexican, thus providing international art collectors an excellent opportunity to become familiar with the fine works being created in our country, many of which have been exhibited worldwide.
Galleries such as Míralo and Puerco Azul showcase their owners’ own creations by design, complementing their selection with works by other artists. Miralo’s Rodolfo Rosas, who opened the shop in 2007 along with partner Bud Shafer, creates one-of-a-kind glass mosaic works of art and offers those interested in the medium the opportunity to learn his techniques through a series of introductory workshops available on an ongoing basis. Puerco Azul, on the other hand, features the works of owner Lee Chapman, or “Lencho,” whose whimsical paintings of Pinta and Rudy, his own dogs, have been featured in numerous editions of Vallarta Lifestyles magazine.
Mexican folk art of the highest level of craftsmanship and artistry is the specialty at Colectika, created by Kevin Simpson of Peyote People. Colectika is one of less than a dozen galleries in Mexico that represent sought-after Mexican artists whose works have been exhibited at institutions such as the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, Chicago’s National Museum of Mexican Art and Los Angeles’ Ethnic Arts Council. Paper mache artist Mario Saulo Moreno, one of Colectika’s youngest, recently was spotted on Facebook rubbing elbows with the First Lady of Mexico, Margarita Zavala, at his exhibition at Mexico City’s Museum of Popular Art. While it might be easy for some to dismiss Mexican folk art, Simpson’s expertise on the subject will help new collectors appreciate the difference between run-of-the-mill pieces and those deserving a spot in the finest collections.
Intrigued? These are but a handful of good reasons for you to consider exploring these and other art galleries in Puerto Vallarta. Many feature cocktails and receptions, mostly during the winter months, with artists usually present, further enhancing the opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of not only their works but also why the visual arts scene in Puerto Vallarta is worth exploring. Whether you are a serious collector looking for a unique piece of art to enhance that special space in your home or are simply intrigued by the many ways in which the visual arts manifest themselves in the hands of local artists, you are likely to find something in most styles, sizes and budgets.