This is a travel blog for desktop travelers and other ramblers who want to know the world just a little bit better.

Right now I am living in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala where I'll be settled for a while. Thanks for reading!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Much to do in Quito Two

Editor's note: There is actually enough to do in Quito that I have broken it into two separate posts. To read Part 1 click here.
I almost had a coffee here one day
As I mentioned in the last post, Quito is a pretty big city and sometimes just being in a large city in a foreign country is enough to satisfy a traveler without the need to run around and find every tourist activity available. There are plenty of restaurants and shopping here that could warrant some days of doing nothing but just walking around town and absorbing life in big city Ecuador. Believe me, we have done just that for quite a few days here in Quito. However, for this post (as in the last one) I am just going to stick with the tourist places. I hope it will make for more interesting reading. No one really cares about the pizza slice I eat or the soap dish shopping I do on my non-tourist days.

So let's get back to the business of traveling. Quito has quite a good selection of art museums. Many are free or very reasonable to enter. They are, unfortunately, incredibly anal with regards to photography. There is not one museum that I entered that allows people to take photos even without flash so it kind of makes creating a photo travel blog difficult. So I have taken photos of photos of the art, made some sneaky snaps when the guards were not looking or used images from other sources.

Museo del Banco Central

Greeting us in the lobby is a mannequin wearing
replicas from the Gold room.
The National Museum of the Central Bank of Ecuador houses the largest collection of Ecuadorian art and is an important institution in protecting the country's cultural heritage. Their collection dates back to 12,000 BC and expands all the way to present day. It usually costs $2 to enter but today is free. I think because the rooms with art made after 1820 are closed. Today we do get to enter the Archaeology, Gold and Colonial Art rooms. It is too bad that we will not see any contemporary art, but there is plenty for us to see in these three rooms. 

The main hall is dedicated to pre-Colombian art. The museums collection is incredibly vast and impressive. Seventy or so glass cases takes us in chronological order in Ecuador with commentary in English and Spanish from hunter-gathers 14,000 years ago up until the Inca conquest which ended in 1534 with the arrival of the Spanish. The pieces are of incredible quality and craftsmanship each giving us a glimpse into past lives and cultures. For me what is most striking looking at these sculptures is that some of the ceramic faces are so similar to the real, human faces we see every day in Ecuador. Proof to me that the conquistadors, as hard as they tried for three centuries, could never truly eradicate the soul and spirit of the indigenous communities.
A shaman. Photos are not allowed in the museum.
This photo was taken somewhere else.
The archaeology room naturally flows into the Gold room showing us the skill with which the pre-Colombian cultures manipulated precious metals and then we are lead up to the Colonial Art room. The colonial period starts in 1534 with the arrival of the Spanish. The art is all religious being mostly depictions of Maria, Jesus and various saints in paintings and wood sculptures. Most are beautiful in detail and ornamentation and many are gruesome depictions of the crucifixion. One wood sculpture shows 3-dimensional guts spilling out of Jesus' side.

Museo Camilo Egas

The Camilo Egas museum is a small gallery in a beautifully restored old building in the historic center of Quito. It is free to enter, but closes at 1 PM so go early. They have paintings spanning his entire career. In the courtyard are some tables where school kids were making art. Perhaps the next great Ecuadorian artist is here today.

Camilo Egas (1889-1962) is recognized as being the first Ecuadorian artist to introduce Indians into his paintings essentially creating the indigenist movement - indigenismo. From the museum brochure:
Camilo Egas is a very important figure in terms of this artistic movement as he established its bases and inspired other artists to expand this topic through art. Camilo Egas was concerned with the marginalized indigenous population. It is through his art that he introduced a new way of looking at the native people. He valued their art and culture despite the fact that his society rejected and ignored them.

In 1927 he went to New York and painted some hauntingly powerful images inspired by the misery witnessed during the Great Depression. He remained in the Big Apple for the rest of his life dabbling in surrealism and in the 1950's returning to indigenous themes with cubism. Egas' entire body of work is quite impressive and deserves to be recognized with his European contemporaries. Maybe because I am American and not indigenous it is his images from his early days in New York (see below) that affected me the most.

Museo Guayasamin
This museum is dedicated to the life's work of the Quito born, world famous artist, Oswaldo Guayasamin (1919-1999). From the Guayasamin Fundacion website:
[Guayasamin's] humanist work, marked as expressionist, reflects the pain and misery that the larger part of humanity has endured, and denounces the violence that every human being has had to live with in this monstrous 20th. century marked by world wars, civil wars, genocide, concentration camps, dictatorships, and tortures.

This museum sits high atop a hill in a posh neighborhood of Quito. The entrance fee is a whopping $4, higher than any other place I have been to in Quito. There is a large collection of pre-Colombian art from the artist's personal collection, a colonial art room with some shabby, old religious statues and two galleries dedicated to the work of Guayasamin with many of his large oil paintings. Follow the link below to the foundation's website to see images of Guayasamin's very powerful series "The Hands."

The museum also has a gift shop selling signed limited edition prints by Guayasamin himself. An art collector I am not, but I am very tempted to buy one. The lady tells me they are running out and it is not every day you can buy a piece of art from a nation's most famous artist for a few hundred bucks. A black & white print is cheaper than going to the Galapagos Islands for five days. One problem: Mika and I do not have any walls at the moment or in the near, foreseeable future.

A sneaky peek inside the gallery
I am not allowed to take photos in the museum, but meanwhile reproductions of Guayasamin's paintings are everywhere in Quito. Our hotel has Guayasamin posters on the walls. The touristy souvenir market has hundreds of replicas of his work for sale.
Outside the museum with a postcard purchased at the gift shop
If the places listed above are not enough to placate the most ravenous art buffs, there is also the Museum of Contemporary Art which is free to enter and when I am there has an excellent exhibition showing ninety-one years of modern Ecuadorian art. There is the Museum of Colonial Art which I did not go to, but supposedly has the best collection of Maria and Jesus art and finally the Metropolitan Cultural Center which is also free to enter, has a two story gallery highlighting another local artist, while in the courtyard is temporarily showing the World Press Photo Exhibit.

So as you can see, there is much to do in Quito.
Free art is fun