Lonely Planet has partnered with the San Juan-based Platea travel community to provide comprehensive guides, curated lists and insider tips for your next trip to Puerto Rico.
Over the past decade, established and emerging artists have channeled Puerto Rico’s diverse cultural influences and tropical landscapes to change the face of San Juan.
Bold murals have enlivened the once abandoned buildings of the Santurce district, where art projects are popping up at every turn. Museum curators have taken on new roles as influential connectors and community activists, while private galleries are nurturing an exciting new generation of Puerto Rican artists and propelling them onto the international stage.
Since there’s no better time than now to check out San Juan’s booming art scene, here’s our list of the best places to see art in the capital.
Explore bold murals in the Santurce district
In the heart of San Juan, the artistic district of Santurce is the cradle of Puerto Rico’s street-art movement. In the early 2000s, artists fleeing escalating rents in Old San Juan converged on the area, with tech companies, fine dining restaurants and contemporary art museums quickly following suit. Today, Santurce is one of the most vibrant artistic communities in the Caribbean.
The Santurce Es Ley (Santurce is the Law) movement has its origins as a spontaneous art gathering that took place on Calle Cerra, the epicenter of the neighborhood’s renaissance. Over the past decade, the event has grown into a world-renowned three-day art festival, now held annually in March.
True to the Caribbean experience, much of Santurce’s street art celebrates the landscape and people of Puerto Rico, with many works also emphasizing socio-political or historical themes. The most photographed murals are those of famous artists Defy, La Pandilla and Pun18.
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Celebrate Puerto Rican art at the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo
A 10-minute walk from La Placita de Santurce, the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Puerto Rico was established in 1988 to serve as a showcase for local artists and communities. Current curator Marina Reyes Franco echoes this mission and sees the museum as a focal point for activism.
Representing artists from Latin America, the modern Caribbean and the diaspora, the collection includes more than 1,200 works – most donated by their creators – from the mid-20th century to the present day. Highlights include works by prominent Puerto Rican artists such as painter Myrna Báez.
Temporary exhibits showcase artistic talent from across the Americas and highlight the museum’s community initiatives. More than 25 disadvantaged communities, for example, have been represented through public art projects through the “MAC in the Barrio: From Santurce to Puerto Rico” initiative.
Visit provocative works at Roberto Paradise Gallery
Founded by Francisco Rovira Rullán in 2011, avant-garde gallery Roberto Paradise occupies a former art deco warehouse in Santurce. A heavyweight on the international art scene with strong ties to major galleries in Europe and the continental United States, Rullán worked at the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo before opening his first commercial gallery in 2003.
Rullán is known for scouring the art world for interesting and provocative works. Expect to see paintings by local artist José Lerma, known for his portraits of Puerto Rican historical figures; the rich canvases of Brooklyn artist Katherine Bernhardt; and the pop art-inspired sculptures of Chicago-based Chris Bradley.
Take a history lesson at the Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico (MAP)
Less than a mile to the east, the Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico is housed in a beautiful neoclassical building filled with Caribbean art from the 14th to 19th centuries. With over 4,000 pieces, the collection has received worldwide recognition, particularly for its collections of Pre-Raphaelite paintings.
European masters – including El Greco, Goya, Rubens and Cranach – are represented alongside emerging and established artists from Latin America and Puerto Rico like Julio Rosado del Valle and Myrna Baéz. In addition to the 24 galleries, there’s a stroll-worthy outdoor sculpture garden, a bustling crafts center for kids, a restaurant, and a gift shop. The museum hosts a number of rotating multimedia exhibits, so keep an eye on its website to stay up to date.
Admire iconic works of art at the Ateneo Puertorriqueño
Located in Old San Juan, the Puerto Rican Athenaeum was founded in 1876 by a group of artists, including Alejandro Tapia y Rivera, “the father of Puerto Rican literature”. One of the most prestigious and beloved institutions on the island, the Ateneo hosts classical concerts and literary festivals, organizes international art exhibitions and organizes avant-garde theatrical performances.
The remarkable Moorish-style building — built in 1922 by Aguadillan architect Francisco Roldán Arce — provides a historic setting for premieres of classic Puerto Rican dramas. In frequent rotation are the works of a beloved son of the country, the playwright René Marqués.
The crown jewel of the institution is its art collection, comprising more than 500 multimedia works. Most visitors come to see the famous icon The Escuela del Maestro Rafael Cordero, painted in 1890 by Francisco Oller, a key figure in the development of Puerto Rican art.
Browse the stunning private art collection of Galería Botello
A pioneer of the Puerto Rican art scene, Spanish-born painter Ángel Botello has been dubbed the “Caribbean Gaugin” for his colorful depictions of island life. Influenced by Picasso and Modigliani, the famous painter (1913-1986) fought for the Republican army during the Spanish Civil War, fleeing to Puerto Rico when the Nationalists triumphed in 1939.
Botello remained in Puerto Rico for the rest of his life, opening one of the island’s first art galleries, on Calle del Cristo in Old San Juan. When Botello died in 1986, the torch passed to his son Juan.
Today, Galería Botello is one of the finest private collections on the island. The serene space houses a fascinating collection of paintings, lithographs, sculptures, serigraphs, and ceramics, including pieces by Botello and paintings and ceramics by contemporary Puerto Rican artists like Alvar, José Camacho, and Juan Ramón Velázquez.
Feel inspired at Walter Otero Contemporary Art Gallery
Walter Otero has been an influential figure in the Puerto Rican art world for two decades. Located in Old San Juan, its state-of-the-art gallery space is a powerful symbol of the energy and dynamism that characterize Puerto Rico’s evolving status within international art circles.
Designed by renowned Puerto Rican architect Luis Gutiérrez, Walter Otero’s exhibits span three floors to create a space that is as much an educational hub and community talent incubator as it is a showcase for established Puerto Rican and international artists.
Works by contemporary visual artists Allora y Calzadilla, controversial American photographer Andrés Serrano, acclaimed filmmaker and painter Julian Schnabel and Argentinean Fabián Marcaccio – known for his experimental 3D painting techniques – have each been exhibited in the space. of Otero.
Recent solo exhibitions have featured Angel Otero and Arnaldo Roche, two world renowned Puerto Rican artists.
Discover the future at the Pamil Fine Art Gallery
About 12 km south of Santurce, the Pamil Fine Art Gallery is one of the most renowned art spaces on the island. Founded in 1994 by influential curators Paco González and Mildred Ascar, the gallery curates impressive and exciting exhibitions of paintings, lithographs and photographs by established and emerging artists from across Latin America.
Permanent and rotating shows highlight the creative verve of more than 40 artists, including Emilia Barrietnos, Yelvin Vivoni, Williams Carmona and Cristina Córdova. If you’re looking to browse, buy, and ship contemporary art in Puerto Rico, this is the place. The gallery also hosts workshops and offers bespoke restoration and framing services.