Monumental Oceanfront Art Invites Your Touch
Published Sep 9, 2005 - (Updated Jul 17, 2012)
I don’t know what’s the first thing you do when you get to Puerto Vallarta, but when I was a tourist, as soon as my bags were dropped off I headed straight for the Malecon, the place to see and be seen and to get into the playful spirit of this holiday destination.
And to this day, decades later, I can still count on this delightfully quirky, 11-block-long seaside promenade to lift my spirits, the shimmering ocean on one side relaxing me, fabulous shops, restaurants and bars on the other offering all the excitement I could want.
Creative types gravitate to it, too, which means quality art forms to discover, both spontaneous and permanent. The international and ever-changing cast of characters here gets to enjoy everything from art exhibitions and music, dance, theater and mime performances to interacting with an eclectic assortment of monumental public art.
So, you can’t really say you’ve been to Puerto Vallarta unless you’ve experienced the Malecon and all it offers. And when Hurricane Kenna put it and several of its beloved sculptures out of commission back in October 2002, it was a huge loss for us all. Happily, it was just for a few, but seemingly interminable, months, this important Vallarta landmark reconstructed at a feverish pace.
And today, it’s better than ever, more handicap friendly with ramps and wider in the appropriate places, with a smoother surface and more planter ledges for perching on when pausing to soak it all in. And now that it’s linked by a new pedestrian bridge to the Los Muertos walkway, in effect the Malecon extends all the way from the Hotel Rosita at its north end to the South Side’s La Palapa restaurant.
Until 1984, “Meet you at the sculpture at eight” was a perfectly acceptable rendezvous arrangement, The Seahorse being the only sculpture the Malecon had. Today, it’s punctuated by nine beguiling and permanent installations, people pondering over them, posing with them and sometimes taking advantage of the shade this al fresco gallery provides.
We now have a new set of arches, known as Los Arcos, at the Aquiles Serdan outdoor amphitheater across from the Main Plaza, where lively public performances are held many an evening against this distinctive backdrop. Recognized around the world as a symbol of this destination, the original four arches had been salvaged from a historic hacienda, while Martin Distancia Barragan created their replacements in Zapopan canterra stone.
Just north of Los Arcos is the Friendship Fountain, a gift from Sister City Santa Barbara in 1987 and a replica of the one in that city, which is dramatically similar to Puerto Vallarta in terms of its topography, lush mountains cascading to the Pacific. California sculptor James “Bud” Bottoms created the dolphin trio to represent the two cities and the friendship uniting them, one marine mammal looking at the city, another at the sea and the third up at the sky. A legend California’s Chumash Indians tell is that when some of them were shipwrecked, they were turned into dolphins so they wouldn’t drown.
You’ll next encounter Neptune and the Nereid, the Roman god of the sea and a mythical sea nymph. On the Malecon since 1990, these half-fish, half-human characters are the expression of sculptor C. Espino.
The Seahorse, a nine-foot-high bronze statue featuring a boy riding it, is arguably Vallarta’s most-recognized symbol and has the most complex history. Almost a decade before Rafael Zamarripa’s work became the first sculpture on the Malecon back in 1976, its identical twin stood at the south end of Los Muertos Beach. But due to the relentless force of people climbing on it and high waves and strong winds, it eventually toppled and was lost to the sea. Then, years after its doppelganger was installed on the downtown Malecon, the original mysteriously reappeared, only to be lost again in Kenna, re-found and then reinstalled yet again.
In Search of Reason by Guadalajara artist Sergio Bustamante inspires more questioning and climbing than any other piece. In fact, when installed in 1999 in honor of the millennium, citizens were so concerned that its 30-foot height was a potential danger to those who might scale it that they marched on City Hall. But six years later, people still can’t resist following the two defiant pillow-headed kids up the ladder to nowhere, while mom seems to scream out, “Get back down here! And I mean now!” People always ask why the kids are climbing the ladder. Not getting an answer from the sculptor himself after repeated requests, I suddenly realized that the question itself is the answer. During the hurricane, mom was swept away, but the story ends on a high note. Although she was found in beach rubble by some unscrupulous characters who tried to sell her for scrap, when the would-be buyer recognized her he called the police, she was rescued and now she’s back where she belongs.
The Rotunda on the Sea by visionary Guadalajara native Alejandro Colunga is quite different now than it was when installed in 1997. Originally an ensemble of 16 large and small fantastical sea-inspired creatures inside of, and spilling out of, a small roundabout, it now consists of seven major pieces contained within a bigger and more heavily reinforced rotunda with good night lighting. This bizarre-looking installation, the last to be reinstalled after the hurricane, attracts as much curiosity now as ever.
Nature As Mother, by Guadalajara native Adrian Reynoso, depicts a spiraling wave on a snail, representing the life and death cycle. In a unique combination of bronze and experimental polymer resins, this sculpture has such a soothing ease and flow to it that children are often seen snuggling into its nurturing embrace.
La Nostalgia is said to grant long, happy marriages to couples that visit it. Vallarta sculptor Ramiz Barquet’s own love story inspired the piece as a tribute to the woman he long loved, lost and later married. Both now in their 80s, their romance is in full bloom to this day. There must be lots of honeymooners here, because its lap has been worn shiny by the lovers hopping onto it since 1984.
And The Millenium, at the north end of the Malecon beside the Hotel Rosita, is the most recent addition, installed in 2001. The inspiration of Mathis Lidice, it symbolizes the passage of time in a spiraling ascendancy representing man’s evolution, from the first living creatures emerging from the sea to the Christian era. Although it remained intact during Kenna, its unorthodox shape caused one visitor to exclaim upon seeing it, “My god, George. Look what the hurricane did!”