From top clockwise: a mural in Santurce es Ley by the collective Kiik Create; Poncili Creacion at Roberto Paradise; Carlos Betancourt's retrospective at the Museo de Arte Contemporaneo de Puerto Rico; another take from Carlos Betancourt's retrospective at the Museo de Arte Contemporaneo de Puerto Rico; Old San Juan intervention by Omar Velazquez; me surfing in Rincon (!); the Royal Isabela Hotel in Isabela; one of Quintin Rivera Toro's photographs on the wall and bikes installation by Jorge "Rito" Cordero at the Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico.
Puerto Rico is one of those places that, no matter how many times I visit, the more I discover the more it surprises me. The purpose of this trip was to check the latest on the contemporary art scene - which I always do and more than being my job is the most fulfilling and interesting way to get to know a country, a city and a culture - and to surf on the west coast of the island, where the beaches of Rincon are considered by many pro surfers as having some of the best waves in the world.
On the art side, it never ceases to amaze me how many talented artists Puerto Rico keeps producing at an accelerated pace. San Juan offers world-class museums and top-notch contemporary art galleries, as well as avant-garde shows in edgy settings, such as the celebrated "Santurce Es Ley", an initiative created to revitalize the area of Santurce, where the facades of dilapidated houses are now covered floor to ceiling with the most inventive and imaginative street art that keeps changing and evolving every year.
The Museo de Arte Contemporaneo de Puerto Rico is located in a beautiful neoclassical-style building also in the area of Santurce. The internal courtyard and hallways filled with natural light are enhanced by well-curated exhibitions, including a retrospective of Puerto Rican-born, Miami-based artist Carlos Betancourt, whose poignant colorful photographs, assemblage pieces and sculptures show his ability to merge disparate thoughts and a diversity of cultures, races and nationalities.
The Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico is a bigger institution that is affiliated with the Smithsonian and its exhibitions are nothing short of exceptional. One of them, called "Interconexiones," is curated with some of the highlights of the museum's permanent collections and relies mostly on Puerto Rican artists who now enjoy international recognition, such as Pepon Osorio and Quintin Rivera Toro.
On the galleries front, Walter Otero in Old San Juan is presenting a solo show with the new works of Arnaldo Roche, who is considered by many as one of the most relevant Puerto Rican contemporary artists. The pieces for this show changed from Roche's last stage, where it was all about different tones of blue, to a now colorful and vibrant celebration of life captured in gorgeous, abstract still-lives.
Roberto Paradise is a gallery that verges toward showcasing emerging talent; its owner, Francisco Rovira Rullan, is always choosing the art stars of the future both locally and internationally. The current show is a solo exhibition of the collective Poncili Creacion, composed of four Puerto Rican young artists who created four "worlds," each of a different color: red, yellow, green and blue fill the walls and floors of the gallery with puppet-looking sculptures made from recycled materials like foam, canvas, and wood.
Finally, the gallery of Agustina Ferreyra elegantly balances younger artists with established ones. The gallery just presented solo exhibitions of San Juan-based conceptual artist Michael Linares, while next month will open a solo exhibition of the well-recognized Mexican artist Abraham Cruzvillegas.
For the surf portion of the trip, we had to drive all the way West to the Royal Isabela, a gorgeous and secluded 5-star enclave at the top of a rugged hill, surrounded by lush vegetation, a very expansive 18-hole golf course with deep canyons, natural sand dunes, and only 20 "casitas" or little houses, each of which has its own terrace with a small private pool facing the Atlantic Ocean. This place seemed and felt like a miracle and one of Puerto Rico's best kept secrets. I have traveled the world and seen a lot, but the natural beauty and seamlessly integrated architecture of the Royal Isabela left me speechless.
Every morning we drove to Rincon, and we went straight to the Rincon Surf School, where we had booked our lessons. Although my family and I have surfed before, we didn't feel confident on our own, and the owners and instructors at the Rincon Surf School took great care of us. Every day we went to different beaches around the area - sometimes through hidden paths, sometimes crossing bamboo bridges - and every day we marveled at the beauty of these hard-to-reach spots mostly filled with surfers and people who have left all their pretenses behind.
Dogmans, Antonio’s and Maria’s were some of the beaches we went to and it felt amazing how equalizing and democratic the experience of surfing can be. While in the water, sitting on boards, waiting for the next set of waves to catch, everyone looks the same. The power of the ocean is like nothing else, it commands respect and reverence, no matter who you are or how much or little you've surfed. We were lucky to have lessons with an excellent Puerto Rican instructor born from American parents who grew up loving the aquatic life and believes he has spent as many hours inside the water as he has outside it. Besides the rush of adrenaline that comes with riding many waves, Nico was the highlight of our surfing experience.
Between the warm, emerald green waters, the perfect weather from dawn to dusk, and the incredible art, I was once again swept away by Puerto Rico.