The best places to see art in San Juan
Lonely Planet has partnered with San Juan-based travel community Platea to provide comprehensive guides, curated lists and insider tips for your next trip to Puerto Rico.
Bold murals have enlivened the once derelict buildings of the Santurce district, where art projects spring up at every turn. Museum curators have embraced new roles as both influential connectors and community activists, while private galleries are nurturing an exciting new generation of Puerto Rican artists and propelling them onto the international stage.
Since there’s no better time than now to check out San Juan’s burgeoning art scene, here’s our list of the best places to see art in the capital city.
Explore bold murals in Santurce neighborhood
In the heart of San Juan, the artsy Santurce neighborhood is the cradle of Puerto Rico’s street-art movement. In the early 2000s, artists fleeing escalating rents in Old San Juan converged on the area, with tech businesses, gourmet restaurants and contemporary-art museums quickly following suit. Today, Santurce is one of the Caribbean’s most vibrant artistic communities.
The movement Santurce Es Ley (Santurce is Law) has its origins as a spontaneous art gathering that took place on Calle Cerra, the epicenter of the neighborhood’s renaissance. Over the last decade, the event evolved into a world-renowned three-day art festival, now held annually in March.
Faithful to the Caribbean experience, most of Santurce’s street art celebrates Puerto Rico’s landscape and people, with many works also underscoring sociopolitical or historic themes. The most photographed murals are by celebrated artists Defy, La Pandilla and Pun18.
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Celebrate Puerto Rican art at Museo de Arte Contemporáneo
A 10-minute stroll from La Placita de Santurce, Puerto Rico’s Museo de Arte Contemporáneo was created in 1988 as a showcase for local artists and communities. Current curator Marina Reyes Franco echoes this mission and views the museum as a focal point for activism.
Representing Latin American, modern Caribbean and diaspora artists, the collection comprises over 1200 works – most donated by their creators – from the mid-20th century to the present. Highlights include pieces by such preeminent Puerto Rican artists as painter Myrna Báez.
Temporary exhibitions showcase artistic talent from across the Americas and spotlight the museum’s community-centered initiatives. Over 25 disadvantaged communities, for example, have been represented through public art projects via the “MAC in the Barrio: from Santurce to Puerto Rico” initiative.
Tour provocative works at the Roberto Paradise gallery
Founded by Francisco Rovira Rullán in 2011, the avant-garde Roberto Paradise gallery occupies an art deco former warehouse in Santurce. A heavyweight on the international art stage with strong ties to leading galleries in Europe and the mainland US, Rullán worked at the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo before opening his first commercial gallery in 2003.
Rullán is known for scouring the art world for interesting and provocative works. Expect to see paintings by local artist José Lerma, known for his portraits of historic Puerto Rican figures; the rich canvases of Brooklyn artist Katherine Bernhardt; and the pop art–inspired sculptures of Chicago-based Chris Bradley.
Get a history lesson at Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico (MAP)
Less than a mile east, Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico is housed in a beautiful neoclassical building filled with Caribbean art from the 14th through 19th centuries. With over 4000 pieces, the collection has received global recognition, especially for its holdings of Pre-Raphaelite paintings.
European masters – including El Greco, Goya, Rubens and Cranach – are represented alongside such emerging and established Latin American and Puerto Rican artists as Julio Rosado del Valle and Myrna Baéz. In addition to 24 galleries, there’s an outdoor sculpture garden worthy of a stroll, a lively craft center for kids, a restaurant and a gift shop. The museum hosts a number of rotating multimedia exhibits, so keep an eye on its website to stay up to date.
Enjoy seminal artworks at Ateneo Puertorriqueño
Located in Old San Juan, the Puerto Rican Athenaeum was founded in 1876 by a group of artists, including Alejandro Tapia y Rivera, “the father of Puerto Rican literature.” One of the island’s most prestigious and beloved institutions, the Ateneo hosts classical concerts and literary festivals, mounts international art exhibits and stages avant-garde theater performances.
The striking Moorish-style building – built in 1922 by Aguadillan architect Francisco Roldán Arce – provides a historic backdrop for premieres of Puerto Rican classic dramas. In frequent rotation are works by a beloved native son, playwright René Marqués.
The institution’s crown jewel is its art collection, comprising over 500 multimedia works. Most visitors come to see the celebrated icon La Escuela del Maestro Rafael Cordero, painted in 1890 by Francisco Oller, a seminal figure in the development of Puerto Rican art.
Peruse the stunning private art collection at Galería Botello
A pioneer of the art scene in Puerto Rico, Spanish-born painter Ángel Botello has been dubbed the “Caribbean Gaugin” for his colorful representations of island life. Influenced by Picasso and Modigliani, the celebrated painter (1913–86) fought for the Republican Army during the Spanish Civil War, fleeing to Puerto Rico when the nationalists triumphed in 1939.
Botello remained in Puerto Rico for the remainder of his life, opening one of the first art galleries on the island, on Calle del Cristo in Old San Juan. When Botello died in 1986, the torch passed to his son Juan.
Today, Galería Botello is one of the finest private collections on the island. The serene space houses a compelling collection of paintings, lithographs, sculptures, silkscreen and ceramics, including pieces by Botello and paintings and ceramics by contemporary Puerto Rican artists like Alvar, José Camacho and Juan Ramón Velázquez.
Feel inspired at the Walter Otero Contemporary Art gallery
Walter Otero has been an influential figure in the Puerto Rican art world for two decades. Located in Old San Juan, his state-of-the-art gallery space is a potent symbol of the energy and dynamism that characterizes Puerto Rico’s evolving status within international art circles.
Designed by leading Puerto Rican architect Luis Gutiérrez, Walter Otero’s exhibits extend across three floors to create a space that’s as much an educational hub and community talent incubator as it is a showcase for established Puerto Rican and international artists.
The works of contemporary visual artists Allora y Calzadilla, controversial American photographer Andrés Serrano, renowned filmmaker and painter Julian Schnabel and Argentine Fabián Marcaccio – known for his experimental 3D painting techniques – have each been exhibited in Otero’s space.
Recent solo exhibitions have featured Angel Otero and Arnaldo Roche, two world-renowned Puerto Rican artists.
Catch a glimpse of the future at Pamil Fine Art Gallery
Some 7 miles (12 km) south of Santurce, Pamil Fine Art Gallery is one of the island’s most renowned art spaces. Founded in 1994 by influential curators Paco González and Mildred Ascar, the gallery mounts impressive and exciting exhibitions of paintings, lithographs and photography by established and emerging artists from across Latin America.
Permanent and rotating shows highlight the creative verve of over 40 artists, including Emilia Barrietnos, Yelvin Vivoni, Williams Carmona and Cristina Córdova. If you’re looking to peruse, buy and ship contemporary art works while in Puerto Rico, this is the place. The gallery also hosts workshops and provides restoration services and custom framing.