Without a doubt, the crowning jewel of San Juan ’s cultural institutions is Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico (299 Ave. José de Diego, Santurce, 787/977-6277, fax 787/977-4446, www.mapr.org , Tues. and Thurs.–Sat. 10 a.m.–5 p.m., Wed. 10 a.m.–8 p.m., Sun. 11 a.m.–6 p.m., $6 adults, $3 children 5–12, seniors, students with ID, and visitors with disabilities; valet parking). Visitors with even a passing interest in art will be bowled over by the volume and quality of work produced by the many gifted artists who hail from this small island.
The modern, new 130,000-square-foot, neoclassical structure opened in 2000 and is devoted to Puerto Rican art from the 17th century to the present. And joy! The wall text is in Spanish and English.
Exhibition highlights include works by the celebrated Francisco Manuel Oller, a European-trained 17th-century realist-impressionist, and a striking selection of cartels, a mid-century poster-art form distinguished by bold graphics and socially conscious themes.
Contemporary art is on the second floor, and it is not to be missed. One room is devoted to Rafael Trelles’s 1957 installation Visits to the Wake, inspired by Oller’s famous 19th-century painting of a family attending a child’s wake, called El Veloria. The piece combines video, sculpture, found objects, and life-size cutouts of the painting’s characters to astounding effect. Another remarkable work is Pepón Osorio’s installation titled No Crying Allowed in the Barbershop. The simulated barbershop explores issues of male vanity, rites of passage, and early lessons in masculinity.
There are also temporary exhibition spaces for rotating shows, a children’s gallery, a five-acre modern sculpture garden, and the Raul Julia Theater, featuring an intriguing curtain made of mundillo, a traditional hand-made lace. A museum shop is also on-site, as is Pikayo , a pricey fine-dining restaurant.