Visions of Vallarta 12-11-2002

The city offers culture vultures a flourishing art scene that includes displays in hip new cafes and restaurants

By: Lori Tenny

Puerto Vallarta has matured over the decades into an all-encompassing beach resort offering something for every type of traveler from beach lovers to history and culture buffs to eco tourists. In recent years, the burgeoning creative side of this Mexican Pacific resort has given the destination a worldwide buzz, and art has become one of the biggest selling points for travelers.

Art Mecca

A healthy artists’ community has called Puerto Vallarta home since the 1950s, and art has been a significant part of the city since the first gallery opened in 1971. Nowadays, the art scene is prevalent throughout the destination dozens of high-end galleries tucked into old buildings along the cobblestone streets of Old Town, modern structures of Marina Vallarta and public art sculptures on the Malecon, Puerto Vallarta’s picturesque waterfront promenade.

The new crop of cutting-edge dining venues also has become a backdrop for art, with many restaurants showcasing permanent collections and temporary exhibitions for patrons.

Whether clients want to invest in the work of renowned or up-and-coming artists or simply explore the diversity of painting, sculpture, photography and other mediums, Puerto Vallarta is the best beach resort in Mexico for a concentrated dose of high art. Respected dealers represent the work of international, national, regional and local artists, and many galleries offer walking and studio tours.

Galleries of Distinction

Puerto Vallarta’s varied mix of fine art galleries showcases an array of talents and mediums, including classic, contemporary and folk art of Latin American and international artists. From the traditional to the avant-garde, a vast spectrum of work is available for art novices and collectors who want to take home a bit of Puerto Vallarta’s cultural artistry.

One of the best times to explore the galleries is from November through April during Art Season, which features cocktail receptions and openings at various galleries, where guests can mingle with the artists while viewing their work. The annual month-long Festival de las Artes is also held in November, with dedicated art gallery exhibitions as well as open-air theater performances throughout the destination.

Within the city’s Art District in Old Town, the standouts for art enthusiasts are Galeria Uno, Galeria Pacifico and Galeria Omar Alonso. Galeria Uno, Puerto Vallarta’s oldest gallery, was established in 1971 by Jan Lavendar as a showplace for the work of the budding artists’ community of the time. The gallery has since become one of Mexico’s best showplaces for Latin American contemporary art. Housed in an old adobe home, the creations of more than 30 artists are displayed around a central courtyard.

With its long-standing reputation for quality artwork, Galeria Uno represents many artists who have become famous in the international art world, including Alejandro Colunga, a Mexican artist who has created some of Puerto Vallarta’s most distinctive public art sculptures. The walls of Galeria Uno are lined with interesting paintings of other prominent Mexican artists, including Vladimir Cora, Sergio Garval and Oscar Zamarripa. Galeria Uno also stages a varied calendar of art openings and art walks from November through April. Call 011-52-322-222-0908. Web

Established in 1987, Galeria Pacifico is a highly respected gallery owned by Gary Thompson. Over the years, Thompson has represented emerging young artists, such as Alejandro Colunga, Vladimir Cora and Jose Esteban Martinez, who have become internationally famous, as well as such established masters as Diego Rivera and Rufino Tamaya.

The small gallery exhibits an attention-grabbing collection of changing exhibits, notably the rich and whimsical paintings of Mexican artist Alfredo Langarica and the youthful, realist paintings of Rogelio Diaz, one of Puerto Vallarta’s rising talents.

Thompson offers an excellent walking tour that explores the public art sculptures along the Malecon and visits the studio of the renowned Richard Baker, who creates intricate watercolors on canvas in a hillside retreat in Puerto Vallarta’s famous Gringo Gulch. Call 011-52-322-222-1982. Web site:

For photography lovers, Galeria Omar Alonso opened in late 2001 as the first gallery in Puerto Vallarta specializing in the work of national and international photographers.

The modern space features changing exhibits with dramatic images by well-established photographers such as Wouter Deruytter, from Belgium; Michal Macku, from Czechoslovakia; Wilhelm Von Gloeden, from England; and Gonzalo Ramirez, Fernando Sanchez and Luis Ruben Arguijo, from Mexico. The gallery also features sculpture and engravings. Call 011-52-322-222-5587.

Other notable galleries include Galerie des Artistes (858-578-8113), which stages an eclectic mix of art, including everything from decorative objects to extraordinary paintings by Mexican artists Diego Rivera and Jose Clemente Orozco, and Galeria de Ollas (011-52-322 223-1045;, offering ceramic creations of the finest potters from the town of Mata Ortiz.

Public Displays

Puerto Vallarta’s waterfront Malecon has become a forum for artistic expression, with a growing number of eye-catching public art sculptures spanning the walkway along the beach.

The first installment was Mexican artist Rafael Zamarripa’s “The Seahorse,” erected in the late 1950s during Puerto Vallarta’s beginnings as a tourist destination.

“The Seahorse” was the only public art sculpture in the destination until 1984, when Mexican sculptor Ramirez Barquet created “Nostalgia,” a bronze bench located at the spot where he proposed to his longtime love in 1973 after a 26-year separation.

“Nostalgia” sparked the idea for a series of public art works along the Malecon, and since the mid-1980s, the destination has commissioned works by leading sculptors.

The collection includes works such as the simplistic “Seahorse” to the surreal “fantasy chair people” of Mexican artist Alejandro Colunga’s “Rotunda on the Sea” and the curious creatures of Sergio Bustamente’s “In Search of Reason.”

Gourmet Pallets

A handful of Puerto Vallarta’s hip new restaurants also double as art spaces, allowing patrons to dine on the creative nouvelle cuisine of inspired chefs while taking in art exhibits.

Trio, owned by acclaimed European chefs Bernhard Guth and Ulf Henriksson, is situated in an elegant historic building. Unique paintings and sculptures are sprinkled throughout the restaurant, including Mexican artist Alfredo Langarica’s “Used to Be a Trio,” featuring three humorous guitar players.

The multilevel restaurant, which has an open-air courtyard with a sandstone fountain, a hand-carved mahogany bar and Tiffany-style windows, features a second-floor gallery space for private parties and a rooftop garden bar, where art shows and small concerts are often held. Trio’s menu boasts an innovative selection of Mediterranean-inspired dishes flavored with Mexican spices. Call 011-52 322-222-2196. Web site:

Another popular venue is

Cafe des Artistes, a romantic restaurant spotlighting the cuisine of celebrated chef and owner Thierry Blouet, who crafts dishes blending French cooking techniques with Mexican ingredients. The venue exhibits several intriguing works of art, including large-scale canvases. Web site: