The two things we were most looking forward to before we arrived in Mexico City were the food and the museums. Like always, the food in Mexico didn’t disappoint, but the museums really were a mixed bag.
Some were excellent, a few quite good, and a surprising number were duds. Below are my reviews of the 7 museums we went to in CDMX.
Our first museum was easily the best and that’s not something we expected! We arrived in Mexico City on a weekend and knew that a lot of things would be closed on Monday, but we lucked out that Museo del Juguete Antiguo México is open every day of the week.
Not our first toy museum, we had first experienced their grandness in Ayutthaya’s Million Toy Museum. Museo del Juguete Antiguo México may not have a million toys, but it does have over 45,000 pieces that cover a four-story industrial building. Located in the neighborhood of Doctores, there wasn’t much else to capture our attention in the area, but it was worth getting off the beaten track.
Roberto Shimizu Kinoshita is the owner of the collection, an architect who started his obsession at the age of 10. Each floor has its own vibe from Matchbox cars & robots on the first floor, Barbies on another, and an extensive collection of lucha libre wrestling paraphernalia as well.
Upper floors had theme rooms that ranged from King Kong to the 1986 Olympics hosted in Mexico City to Peanuts…there was even a room dedicated to the band Kiss!
It was hard to pick a favorite space, each one was more bananas than the previous.
Throughout the museum, and even highlighted in some of the rooms on the upper floors, is one of the largest collections of street art I’ve ever seen. If you make it up to the roof, the collection only grows. Below is one of the first pieces we were greeted by in the parking lot.
We left the museum over an hour later than anticipated and could have easily spent more than just a morning exploring this collection if we hadn’t needed a break for lunch.
Our next museum was probably the least “fun” of our top choices, but quite enjoyable in its own right. Museo Nacional de Antropologia is a gigantic structure that we definitely should have researched more before just “showing up.” Not particularly well labeled (for where to start or what to prioritize), we started on the main floor with a rather odd beginning of man exhibit before moving upstairs.
Clearly the ground floor is the main attraction, because we were mostly baffled by what we saw on the second floor. There were some incredible pieces, like the weaving from indigenous groups in the Gran Nayar region – Wixáritari, Náayarite, O’dam, and Mexicaneros. But there were also a lot of recreations of indigenous life that looked like a cross between a children’s museum and an oversimplification of a less than understood lifestyle.
By the time we figured out we were in the wrong part of the museum (ethnography), over an hour had passed. We made our way back downstairs and tried to pick up where we had initially left off (archeology).
On the outside edges of the museum are beautiful gardens that are home to some absolutely stunning structures and pieces. After a rather frustrating start to our experience, we found ourselves slowing down and enjoying ourselves again.
Finally, we made it to the main room – or at least the room that seemed to have the most visitors. It wasn’t too surprising, as the space was visually stunning. On display everywhere was stonework dating back from a few hundred years to a few thousand years, which is always little mind boggling for me.
Below is the Stone of the Sun made by the Mexicas – originally thought to be an Aztec calendar, it was finally identified as a gladitorial sacrificial altar that was never finished due to a deep crack in the back of the stone.
Next is Xiuhcóatl, the Aztec Turquoise Serpent. And finally, for some reason, my favorite: the Mixtec Moon Tablet. Yes, that’s definitely a rabbit covering the moon. A rare few of the descriptions had been translated into English, so a lot of the backstories were lost on me. Chandler did his best to translate, but there’s only so much time in a day.
Overall, we enjoyed the museum, but if you ever find yourself at Museo Nacional de Antropologia, make sure to start on the first floor.
Another museum that was almost as much fun as the toy museum was Museo de Arte Popular. Dedicated to showcasing the variety of folk art and handicrafts throughout Mexico, this museum was a wonderful visit. It was the best labeled (rooms are organized numerically and many of the descriptions were in English as well as Spanish) and incredibly easy to navigate.
One of the first pieces that truly stunned me was the following display made of molded clay by artisans in San Marcos Tlapazola, Oaxaca. It took up the entirety of one wall – floor to ceiling.
Another room I absolutely loved was first observed from the floor above it because part of the floor was transparent. Below was a room dedicated to skeletons. All different shapes and sizes from solo pieces to series, and when we arrived in the room itself it was difficult to know what to pay attention to first.
This set of a fashionable couple – the man smoking and holding a cane while the woman rides a unicycle – captured my imagination the most.
A final collection that I spent an unusual amount of time at was the alebrijes collection. Throughout the museum there were alebrijes on display – ranging from the life-sized ones that are carted through the streets most nights to a few pieces from the workshop we visited in San Martín Tilcajete.
But one room, near the end, had an entire display of mythical, monstrous alebrijes. Many resembled dragons and it was fascinating reading about the artists and workshops they came from.
Another major bonus to this museum was its gift shop: Absolutely top notch. It is managed by a non-profit organization that helps artisans across the country promote their work and earn fair wages and it housed some truly stunning pieces as well.
Our final museum that we really enjoyed was Museo Jumex. When we arrived, nearly an entire floor was under renovation for the current exhibits: Roca, Isla, Glaciar & Leo Marz: The Ancient Incident. Not on display were Jeff Koon’s Balloon Dog and Play-Doh sculptures that we thought the museum was known for.
However, there was plenty more to hold our attentions. Some favorites included Iñaki Bonillas’ display of 990 photographs taken by his grandfather. The piece starts in black & white to the left and gradually becomes more colorful as time passes. Together, the collection acts as a personal archive chronicling a family history and it also turns portraiture into a visual repertoire of the larger developments in photography.
Abraham Cruzvillegas also created a stunning display of wooden fruit and vegetable crates, mirroring the process of self-constructed homes that Mexicans improvise from recycled materials or detritus. He uses these found objects to produce work that reflects on the nature of cooperation, exchange, and survival.
On the wall opposite this piece was an impressive reflection by another artist on commercialism. The entire wall was covered by three giant receipts that had been meticulously recreated using woven fabric. I’m not typically a fan of modern art, but when it has such a clear purpose as these had, I find it really inspiring.
However, not all of the museums we went to were top notch – in fact, some were downright awful. Like Mueso Nacional de las Culturas del Mundo. A museum that is made up almost entirely of replicas. As people who obsessively visit museums while we travel, the only highlight of this museum was the game we made out of guessing where the original artwork was located and if we had already seen it in person.
Another museum we’d pass on is Museo Soumaya. Located right next to Museo Jumex, it wasn’t bad, so much as blasé. I was briefly intriuged by the history of technology on the first floor – phones, watches, and musical instruments, but the rest of the floors had little to interest us. There was an entire floor dedicated to ivory carvings that we skipped entirely and a hilarious collection of Rodins on the top floor (I never need to see another Rodin in my life).
The final museum that wasn’t quite worth our time was the Museo del Palacio de Bellas Artes. This palace of fine arts is more of a performance space and known for its Art Nouvea architecture, but if I remember correctly, it was one of the most, if not the most, expensive places we visited in Mexico City. I’m not sure if the issue was pandemic restrictions, but the museum and performance spaces were closed, so for a very high fee, we were allowed to look at a few murals on the second and third floors. It’s a beautiful building, but really not worth the price tag right now.
While going to 7 museums in Mexico City hardly makes us experts and there are definitely more we missed due to time limits or closures (Museo Universitario Arte Contemporaneo, Museo del Objecto, Museo de Arte Moderno, and Palacio Nacional all come to mind), we had a fantastic time exploring the museums we did make it to. I hope if you find yourself in Mexico City, you’ll take the time to visit a few of these too!