the urbanist: san juan

A High-Low Art Lover’s Guide to San Juan

Mural by Abey Charrón on Calle Loíza in San Juan. Photo: elidiomaro

From the time of Taino Indian cave drawings, art has been ingrained into the island of Puerto Rico. The vast collection at the Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico offers a wonderful overview of the evolution of island art, while the Museo de Arte Contemporaneo de Puerto Rico holds a peerless collection of modern Caribbean works. And art lovers everywhere are looking forward to the second MECA International Art Fair, which focuses on Caribbean artists, being held in San Juan this November. But art is everywhere — with murals adorning buildings, sculptures gracing parks, and even a colorful mosaic of former governor Luis Muñoz Marin greeting visitors at the airport. Here, locals share their favorite places to take in all the beauty, whether in conventional galleries or on the street.  


Calle Cerra. Photo: Juan Cristobal Zulueta

Calle Cerra
“This is where it’s at for art right now. Not only is there a high concentration of street art here, but there are a ton of galleries. At the beginning of the month, there will be a big opening night when all of the galleries open, usually a Thursday, and the whole street becomes a party. There will be food trucks and music. To find out what’s happening when, have lunch at one of the local restaurants on Calle Cerra, like El Axolote, and ask them. They are really involved in the art scene.” —Carla López de Azúa, co-founder and director of Santurce Pop, a pop-up marketplace and retail incubator

El Patio del Solé. Photo: Courtesy of El Patio de Sole

El Patio del Solé
“A wonderful artist, Mic Urban, has his studio in the back of this cool, funky, beautiful space. It feels like Old Havana, Cuba. It has a café in front, and his design studio is in the back, like a fabulous little hideaway. He is a silversmith — he recycles estate cutlery into wearable art.” —Sylma Cabrera, owner of Pure Soul Design clothing boutique

Mural by Kiik Create. Photo: Courtesy of Kiik Create

Calle Loíza
“This is my favorite destination for street art. On the stretch between De Diego Avenue and Calle Tapia, there is something everywhere you look. I love the portrait of a young girl on a mailbox; it’s inconspicuous, with muted colors. And there is the Kiik Create mural on the corner of Loiza Street and Benitez Castaño. What I love about Kiik Create’s work is that it is alive. It makes me feel very vibrant, very much like something bigger, and it mirrors what’s happening on that street: constant creation.” —Carla López de Azúa

“The mural I love on Loiza Street is one of the Puerto Rican flag with kids jumping rope, that uses two sides of the building [pictured at top]. It is by a well-known artist named Abey Charrón. It’s beautiful and moving. Another cool one is a vase of flowers by an artist named Jufe. There is a really colorful lady by Sofia Maldonado, and a new mosaic by Cero, right near the Abey flag.” —Wesley Cullen, general manager at the Casa Bacardi distillery

Barrio Obrero

El Cuadrado Gris
“This house in Barrio Obrero, run by a couple, has become a destination — they basically took their basement and converted it into a gallery. They always have very edgy stuff with really good artists, people like José Luis Cortés, or even some contemporary dance; it’s always changing. They have a patio and there will be a DJ, so it’s like a party and a show. It’s fun and people in the art world respect them a lot.” —Rosario Fernandez, photographer and artist

Old San Juan

Casa Cortés Chocobar. Photo: Courtesy of Casa Cortés Chocobar

Casa Cortés Chocobar
“In Old San Juan, you can eat at the café downstairs, which is chocolate-centric, and then go up to the second and third floor for rotating art exhibits from the private collection of the Cortés family, which started the chocolatier in 1929. Their collection focuses on Caribbean contemporary art. Right now they have an exhibit of Haitian artists.” —Rosario Fernández

Walter Otero Contemporary Art
“A blue-chip gallery, Walter just had a big showing of his collection in New York at the Bronx Museum. You can see painters Angel Otero and Livia Ortiz Ríos and photographer Andres Serrano. It is all fantastic, modern, of-the-now art. The gallery is open by appointment only, so be sure to call first.” —Gustavo Arango


Galeria Petrus
“This is where so many of Puerto Rico’s main artists are shown, such as Antonio Martorell, who has done everything from painting to printmaking to illustrating children’s books, and Julio Suárez, who is not only a genius sculptor and painter but a generous teacher, too. I like being in that space; it is large, elegant, and modern.” —Gustavo Arango, fashion designer

Lindsay Daen’s La Rogativa in Old San Juan. Photo: Bob Krist/Getty Images

Bonus: public works galore
“There is so much beautiful public art in San Juan, everywhere you look. Reclining Woman by Fernando Botero is a masterpiece right across from the Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico. In Condado, there is Paloma by Imel Sierra Cabrera; it is a modern sculpture of a pigeon that has become a symbol of the area. Lindsay Daen’s sculptures are all over the city. There is La Rogativa in Old San Juan; it is bronze and quite iconic and celebrates the founding of the city. There’s Juan Bobo, a boy with a basket and a fountain in the Parque Antonia Quiñones. There is also the boy with a bird in Parque del Indio. In Old San Juan, Totem Telurico is a totem pole sculpture made by artist Jaime Suárez — I love it. A relatively new, fantastic example of public art is at the Banco Popular Center in Hato Rey. They converted a parking deck into a huge garden. It’s spectacular with beautiful green walls full of plants and Jaime Suárez murals, and fountains and ponds with fish. It’s like an oasis in the middle of the cement jungle in the banking district. This is just to name a few!” —Yelyn Vivoni, ceramicist and partner at 3Mujeres shop and art gallery

A High-Low Art Lover’s Guide to San Juan