Puerto Vallarta South Side: Zona Romantica, Old Town … art and culture

The Paradise Community Center right near us was started by two expats and is a bustling hive of activity.

We spent some time there this morning while the Artisans Co-op Market was on and sampled some great Thai food as we watched the crowd come and go. Kitten adoptions, chair massage (by our condo neighbour Sunny), jewellery, food, clothes … it’s all there every week.

Sitting under an umbrella in the courtyard was a very pleasant way to pass some time on a warm and sunny day.

Puerto Vallarta’s Old Town isn’t really all that old but it has the atmosphere of old: cobbled streets, three story walkup concrete apartments, lots of multi-coloured bougainvillea winding itself around poles and up walls.

It also has a fair number of abandoned, vacant, and condemned properties, some of which are huge and cavernous.

I’m not sure whether this is a result of the recent harsh economic conditions or local conditions but it’s an interesting juxtaposition with the evident liveliness of the art scene.

Old Town also has lots of restaurants and bars and a Saturday morning market. And it has art. As in the Centro area further north, here, too, are a cluster of galleries and shops selling contemporary and Mexican folk art. This area also has an Art Walk, every second Friday, centred on Basillio Badillo Boulevard, but it ends the first week in April. So, we strolled around the area without the benefit of a map, trying to find the galleries hidden on shady streets, as well as those out in full view in the blaze of sun.

Galeria Contempo is one of the newest, and largest, spaces on the South Side. The work here is eclectic, comprising abstract painting and figurative bronze sculpture.

And the space is wonderful, two storeys with a wraparound balcony on the second floor, perfect for plants and sculpture.

Galeria Dante bills itself as the largest gallery in PV; the first two times we came by, it was closed; we finally we able to see it on Monday.

The space occupies almost an entire block and consists of several rooms and some outdoor areas, every inch of which, it seems, is packed with art. Paintings and sculpture, mostly, and very colourful. The nicest space is the outdoor sculpture garden, with a variety of figurative bronzes and a lovely fish pond sans fish.

The problem with many of the galleries here is the same problem I found with almost every shop I entered in Turkey – horror vacui! Fear of vacant space – seemingly, everything in the place must be on display. It’s hard to concentrate on any one thing because everything else impinges on one’s consciousness – there’s simply too much stuff!

However, even given that problem, this gallery is an enjoyable experience with the grand variety of art on display, some of it excellent.

We spend an interesting bit of time in the Jose Marca Studio and Gallery on Lazaro Cardenas. Jose was kind enough to show us around his studio space and explain the artistic philosophy behind his neo-expressionist primitivism, telling us that early on in his career other artists and galleries had told him that his work was “good for nothing”. I guess he’s proven them wrong, in that he’s been doing his thing in PV for over twenty-five years and looks at least 15 years younger than his 70.

His good for nothing art has been good for him.

Galeria Puerco Azul features folk art; it used to be a family house and the place is huge, with many rooms full of sculpture, jewellery, painting, and other objets d’art.

They also have a few paintings of archangels done by Peruvian artists – I was really tempted by one of a sword-wielding Michael … still thinking about it.

We also visited several shops which sold masks of all sorts, wooden, beaded (a parrot-headed one was especially cool), papier mache, and more coil pottery.

Puerto Vallarta: if you did nothing but go to the beach and walk the malecon, you’d have one kind of experience – just like anywhere in the world, really, sun, sand, sea – but two blocks off the strip and away from the water, there’s a whole much more interesting world out there. This city is moving up our “Place to Stay in the Sun When We’re Old” list fast, for several reasons: it’s beautiful, it’s on the ocean, the climate in winter is fantastic, it’s got a lively cultural scene and lots of artists;

it has a big English-speaking community and most of the locals speak English well enough (this is a plus and minus; I wanted to improve my Spanish but, whenever I speak it, the local respondent speaks back in English, making me think that my accent is execrable! However, I continue to persist); it is drivable from Vancouver (we could bring the dog and cat with us).

See more pics here.

For more information, click on the links below:

Paradise Community Center

Galeria Contempo

Galleria Dante

South Side Shuffle

Jose Marco

Art scene in PV

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