MEXICO CITY, SOMAYA MUSEUM

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The MX-Somma Museum designed by FR-EE, is a 180,000 ft2 museum that displays nearly 70,000 pieces of art from the 15th century to the middle of the 20th century. In this piece of writing, Bethany Grissom shares her experience being in this museum and how this masterpiece creates a sense of harmony with the site.

– Editor: Mansoor Eqrar

Mexico City, Somaya Museum

March 9, 2018

Author: Bethany Grissom

As if I were a moth flying haphazardly towards a light, so I find myself navigating through the busy streets of downtown Mexico City on a sunny Thursday afternoon. The light that has me so determined in this scenario, despite being turned around three times, is the Museo Soumaya. Nestled in the heart of a vibrant business and commercial center, the museum attracts not only myself but also over 2 million visitors annually. The appeal is clear. Rising up from the plaza like an amorphous blob, the Soumaya gracefully twists like a dancer stretching her back, enticing even the most hurried pedestrian to spare a few moments to marvel at her artistry. Between the well-executed curves and the 16,000 aluminum hexagonal tiles that blanket the façade her appearance constantly shifts as one adjusts their viewing angle. The sunlight and the passing of clouds serenely reflect off the mirror-like surface, adding another level of complexity to an already architectural masterpiece.

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Built in 2010 by the Carlos Slim Foundation and designed by Fernando Romero, founder of FR-EE design firm, the Soumaya houses the personal art collections of Mr. Carlos Slim and offers free admission to all visitors. Spread out across her spacious six stories are over 70,000 pieces of artwork, covering a wide variety of tastes. Each floor has its own theme, such as rare coins and currency, Asian ivory carvings, 17th and 18th-century Christian European paintings, Impressionism and Avant-Garde work, and the crowning jewel of them all, the sixth-floor sculptural collection, featuring a plethora of works by Auguste Rodin and his students.

A spiral ramp winds its way around the edges of the gallery spaces, casually leading me from floor to floor and acting as a mental palate cleanser with its unadorned white walls that mimic the exterior curves of the building and warm-toned wooden floors. To say the museum’s collection is overwhelming is an understatement, and despite the architect’s best effort I can’t help but be left with the taste of conspicuous consumption of wealth in my mouth. It is not merely the shear number of pieces, but the repetitive theme of possessing multiple pieces of the same subject matter by the same artist that are almost indistinguishable from one another that leaves me baffled.

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I will give the benefit of the doubt to Mr. Slim that his intentions were good; building a world-class museum that showcases masterpieces never before available in Mexico and choosing to keep admission free bears all the hallmarks of philanthropy. However, the common reaction I heard from locals is that they find the museum’s collection overbearing. The gallery spaces are massive and a labyrinth of half walls creates no clear sense of progression through space. It is hard to believe that one man truly has that wide of an interest in and passion for art that would be necessary to justify a collection like that of Carlos Slim’s. The much more likely reality here is that this museum was built as an act of self-aggrandizement, which seems even more plausible when you take into account that Carlos Slim ranks number 7 on Forbes 2018 Annual list of Billionaires with a combined net worth of 67.1 billion dollars.

Those very same locals though, cannot say enough good things about the building itself. Guided by the principles of contextualism and innovation it is no surprise that Fernando Romero is quickly making a name for himself as one of the leading architects of the 21st century, not only in his home country of Mexico but on the International stage as well. The scale of the building is appropriate in relation to its neighbors and the hexagonal tiles incorporate the traditional vocabulary of glass covered skyscrapers in a very fun and futuristic fashion.

 

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The Soumaya successfully blends architecture with sculptural art in a subtle but glorious way. It is for these reasons that I will overlook the fact that Fernando Romero is Carlos Slim’s son-in-law and any complicating factors that may add to the Soumaya’s story. After all, a few missteps do not take away from the beauty and otherwise perfect execution of a ballet, and that is exactly what Mr. Romero has been able to do here with the Museo Soumaya. He has created a stage on which the viewer is compelled to spin around with a building that blurs the distinction between inanimate and animate.

Works Cited:

[1] Gamo, Rafael. “Mexico City, Somaya Museum / FR-EE / Fernando Romero Enterprise.”ArchDaily, 25 May 2015, http://www.archdaily.cn/cn/767340/museo-soumaya-fr-ee-fernando-romero-enterprise.

[2] Weisman, Adam. “Mexico City, Somaya Museum / FR-EE / Fernando Romero Enterprise.”ArchDaily, 25 May 2015, http://www.archdaily.cn/cn/767340/museo-soumaya-fr-ee-fernando-romero-enterprise.

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