Carlos Slim’s Soumaya Museum: A Monument to Bad Taste

A monumental mushroom-like, silver structure that is begging to be noticed lies amidst Mexico City’s chaos. The six-story windowless building, covered in over 16,000 aluminum hexagons was commissioned by the richest man in the world, Carlos Slim. Wanting to keep things in the family, Slim conveniently handed over the commission for the building to his son-in-law, architect Fernando Romero, costing him a mere $70 million dollars. Although the monstrosity of the building’s design has been highly criticized because of its interior’s similarities to the New York Guggenheim, the exterior to the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao and architect, Frank Lloyd Wright’s constructions, that is a subject that deserves an entire article of its own. Inside though is where the real nail biting begins as this is the Soumaya, a private museum that serves as a home to Slim’s art collection

It’s safe to say that the entire art community around the world was anxiously waiting for the inauguration of the Soumaya last March 2011, wanting to feast their eyes on the breathtaking artworks that they thought Slim had purchased. Little did they know, money doesn’t buy good taste or class. Badly advised and not knowing any better, the richest man in the world managed to compile in total over 66,000 mediocre works ranging from religious relics, modern and impressionist works, a coin collection, pre-Columbian figurines and Latin American art. Additionally, Slim owns 380 works and casts by Rodin. Many of these are reproductions that don’t belong to the original edition cast by Rodin when he was alive. To put it in simpler terms, the one of a kind factor is inexistent here as for example, you can also find Rodin’s famous Thinker in cities such as Paris and Shanghai amongst many others.

But getting back on track, it’s not only the quality of the second-rate works that make this collection a major disappointment, it’s the horrible museography, how badly curated it is, the inconsistency of how the works are presented, the terrible illumination and the over-crowding of works in the exhibition wings. Moreover, several pieces have not been looked after properly; Fernando Botero’s marble sculpture (one of the few pieces where Slim got it right) of a woman lying down was covered in dust and part of the foot had been sloppily glued back together. Many of the silver crucifixes need to be polished along with the horribly stained scaled model of the museum that the Italian jeweler Bulgari made. When you reach the top floor, that’s when your heart sinks to the bottom of your stomach and you die a slow and painful death – unless you manage to run out the building in time. Under a white industrial ceiling that has absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the structure, and white hospital lights lie a cluster of sculptures, several by Dali (also casted copies of originals), scattered around Rodin’s The Three Shadows. Texts are dispersed across the floor on tacky sheets of white plastic as pop up labels stick out of the bases of the sculptures. It is painful to watch.

According to the museum’s director, Alfonso Miranda, the entire collection is worth around $700 million. Makes you wonder if either Slim hired the worst art advisors in the world who took advantage of him and his fat wallet, or if he just has the worst taste in art. For a collection where money isn’t an issue, could he not afford to buy one fabulous Picasso? One fantastic colorful Miro instead of the average ones he has? Being a break through artist in the field of Abstract Expressionism, some of Miro’s best works can be found at auction and in blue-chip galleries such as Acquavella in New York – not hard to find and truly worth the investment.

Tragedy strikes when you realize that since it’s free of charge, people who can’t afford to go to Europe to visit the most important museums and see historical artworks first hand will believe that this is good art, that this is the emblem of good taste. Works such as Diego Rivera’s mosaic from 1956, Baño de Tehuantepec in the entrance of the museum, the previously mentioned Botero marble sculptures, a Renoir statuette of a woman and a pre-Columbian figurine of a black and terracotta xoloitzcuintli dog are worthwhile, but as a whole the Soumaya is just a branded museum with nothing truly exceptional to offer to the art community, much less to Mexico.

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