Puerto Rico

Quick trips: San Juan’s art scene takes to the streets

 

Going to San Juan

Getting there: American Airlines flies nonstop from Miami to San Juan; JetBlue and Spirit fly nonstop from Fort Lauderdale, a 2 1/2-hour flight. Roundtrip airfare in December starts around $240. San Juan’s airport is a 10-minute drive to the Condado beachfront and Santurce district.

Information: www.seepuertorico.com, 800-866-7827

WHERE TO STAY

San Juan Marriott Resort: 1309 Ashford Ave.; 787-722-7000; www.marriott.com. Condado beachfront resort with quiet, comfy rooms overlooking ocean or pool, lounge, award-winning chefs and complimentary bicycle use for guests. From $169 a night.

Casa Castellana B&B Inn: 1218 Luchetti St.; 813-220-1813; www.CasaCastellanaprbbinn.com. Tropical, romantic rooms with private bath and home-cooked breakfast. From $155 a night.

Wind Chimes: 1750 McLeary Ave., 800-946-3244; www.atWindChimesBoutiqueHotel.com. Restored Colonial Spanish villa near Condado’s beach features quiet, tropical-themed rooms with terracotta floors, original artwork and private baths. From $80 a night.

WHERE TO EAT

La Vista Latin Grill & Bar: 1309 Ashford Ave.; 787-722-7000; www.marriott.com. Recently renovated with ocean views, serving Latin fusion and international cuisine. Breakfast and dinner from $14.

La Jaquita Baya: 801 Fernandez Juncos Ave.; 787-993-5359; www.facebook.com/lajaquitabaya. Authentic Puerto Rican dishes in a rustic setting. Lunch and dinner Monday-Saturday from $10.

El Departamento de la Comida: 1063 Las Palmas Ave.; 787-722-2228; www.ElDepartamentoDeLaComida.com. Market and community cafe serving dishes made from regional organic produce. Lunch and tapas Tuesday-Saturday from $4.

Abracadabra Counter Cafe: 1661 Ponce de Leon Ave.; 787-200-0447; www.AbracadabraCounterCafe.com, Casual fare made with fresh ingredients, popular brunch and live music. Tuesday-Sunday breakfast to late evening; from $7.

WHAT TO DO

Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Puerto Rico: Ponce de Leon/Roberto H. Todd intersection; 787-977-4030; www.facebook.com/pages/Museo-de-Arte-Contempor%C3%A1neo-de-Puerto-Rico-MAC/28402997164. Works by local artists in all media; galleries surround a beautiful courtyard. Open all week. Adults $5.

Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico: 299 De Diego Ave.; 787-977-6277; www.mapr.org. Iconic paintings to intriguing posters, and a garden with quirky sculptures and lily ponds. Tuesday-Sunday. Adults $6. Wed. 2 - 8 p.m. free.

Art events and locations for fine art, street murals and remarkable architecture in Santurce: www.AvenidaDeLasArtes.com.


Special to the Miami Herald

After touring the Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico, one of the Caribbean’s most elegant museums, I descend the steps to its outdoor sculpture garden. I have its treasures to myself — the serene pond, lush woodland and abstract sculptures dotting its winding trail. That is, until I encounter a man in the shadows quietly swooshing paint across a wall.

Edging closer, I realize this is no vandal defacing the park with graffiti. Gerardo Cloquell is painting a visual fable in which a robed woman rides a flying stallion.

In San Juan, the forces of a once-underground art movement now work in broad daylight, rejuvenating urban blocks while catapulting the city into the global art spotlight.

Cloquell (street name ESCO) is among muralists who’ve helped transform the Santurce district into an arts mecca. Clean lines and sensual brushstrokes undergird his fantasies. Cloquell’s also an illustrator; one of his posters promotes the museum’s “Arte Jangueo” social hours; others celebrate baseball. Soon I realize why his work feels familiar. He created a 2012 Art Basel mural I’d admired in Miami’s Wynwood district, a lyrical black and white portrayal of a girl leaning against a swan.

Cloquell is painting this new mural for the Santurce es Ley festival, for which building walls serve as canvases. But that’s not the only time you’ll see muralists perched on ladders and scaffolds around town.

San Juan, the capital of Puerto Rico, is known for its colorful historic district, balmy beaches, rum and rich criollo cuisine. But a free outdoor spectacle has emerged in the arts district in Santurce. It’s just a 15-minute walk or quick bike or cab ride from the popular Condado beachfront area. You’ll even spot street art along the way. For example, the Condado Avenue/RH Todd Avenue underpass displays a wonderful pair of murals depicting native Caribbean Taíno peoples playing batay, a ceremonial ball game.

A parking lot wall downtown displays a towering trio of murals from the Los Muros Hablen (“The Walls Talk”) festival. They flag the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Puerto Rico, a century-old school building holding a trove of visionary regional art.

The mural with the tentacles was painted by La Pandilla, a San Juan duo lauded at Miami’s Art Basel exhibitions. They painted the serpent-elephant-hippo-dolphin-human hybrid and the Wood Tavern alligator, fish and bird fantasy figures whose gawkers included Kanye West.

“As you walk around this area, you’ll see many murals by our local artists,” says the museum’s receptionist, flipping open a loose-leaf binder bulging with pictures of every imaginable, and beyond imaginable, style of street art.

The free advice paid off. Wandering along De Diego Avenue, I find not only works by La Pandilla, but also, up on a ladder, one-half of the duo. Alexis Diaz is applying fine lines of black to complete a grinning calavera — skull — wearing a straw hat that’s topped with a village skyline and a mountain landscape. He calls the mural La Perla.

A few feet away is a stunning figure by La Pandilla’s other half, JUFE. A magenta-hued creature floats across the building walls. Meticulously drawn in Chinese ink are figures-within-the-figure. I see koalas, birds, a whale, possibly a manatee.

Diaz describes an easy walk to find street murals scattered along Ponce de Leon and other avenues in this bustling part of town. At the intersection of Fernandez Juncos Avenue and Calle Del Parque, I spot the loudly colored art-wrapped walls of La Respuesta, a club that by night features (even louder) music, art exhibitions and occasional live-painting parties.

Gritty, narrow Calle Del Parque holds a gold mine of street art. The styles span low-brow to almost classical; the statements from political to comical to, perhaps, schizophrenic. Some scenes feature otherworldly characters engaged in wild dramas. In others, symbols reflect Puerto Rico’s tapestry of Spanish, African and Taíno (native Caribbean) heritage. Entering a parking lot to view several sprawling murals, I find three men selling paintings under a shade tree. Had one fit into my backpack, I would have bought the surrealistic village market scene.

It’s clear why some cities have begun embracing street artists. Instead of slap-dash spray-painting under cover of night, they can spend daylight hours perfecting their work. Their large-scale expressions revitalize urban neighborhoods without a toll on public funds.

Santurce’s artscape offers more than murals. A sprightly red metal silhouette, Marche de las Siluetas, edges a sidewalk near Condado Lagoon. Plaza Ventana al Mar, Condado’s showcase beachfront park, displays Niña con Tucán (Girl with Toucan), a stunning sculpture by Ángel Botello, dubbed “the Caribbean Gauguin.” Childhood joy is captured in a bronze in Parque Antonia Quinones between Condado and downtown. Huge screen prints spruce up high-rise buildings.

Here, businesses support their local artists. Storefronts serve as open-air canvases, restaurants display works by homegrown talent and hotels commission original-art decor. The San Juan Marriott Resort recently turned its Red Coral Lounge into a quasi-gallery with vibrant paintings and Neftali Maldonado’s reef-like wall carved from wood. The resort's guests can borrow bicycles to explore more of the art-infused city.

Explorers will find intriguing works at galleries such as C787 Studios, Espacio 1414 and Petrus. And even the art-averse will find intrigue in the arts district’s anchors. The Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Puerto Rico showcases avant-garde and activist creations, while the lures of Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico include masterworks by Francisco Oller, Ramón Frade and Rafael Tufiño, posters doubling as keen historical snapshots and mixed-media marvels such as Pepón Osorio’s re-imagined barbershop rife with nostalgia, chauvinism and humor.

For seekers of fresh sights, Santurce offers a jackpot indoors and outside, day and night.

Read more Latin American & Caribbean Travel stories from the Miami Herald

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