Tucked away in Puerto Vallarta’s Colonia El Remance, nestled next to tourist favorite Zona Romantica, is ARTe Vallarta Museo, showcasing an art genre unique to the city: Arte Vallarta.
The museum and community art space opened in 2022 in a two-story building that formerly housed apartments and a wrought-iron foundry, but now features a collection of galleries, a gift shop and other outlets. Its base collection comes courtesy of New York City residents and art collectors Gail and Frank L. Rudin.
The Rudins — Gail, who enjoyed a career with Cartier and was the liaison for the Cartier Foundation of Contemporary Art in Paris for 14 years and Frank, a retired attorney — have long had a home in Vallarta, where they started their collection of work by local artists.
In a 2022 book by Rubén Cham showcasing the Rudin collection, the couple were quoted as saying: “We just fell in love with Vallarta and its magical art. We enjoy being surrounded by the warmth and happy brightness, the sense of joy and alive quietness which emanate from these paintings … and then we felt we should share them with everybody else who loves Vallarta as we do.”
In the 1920s, Vallarta was an isolated fishing village on the Bay of Banderas of about 2,000 residents, surrounded by fincas growing mostly corn, beans and tobacco — the region was also a source of chiles and coconut oil — when the U.S.-based Montgomery Fruit Co. started growing bananas in Ixtapa for export, using Vallarta as its shipping port.
At about the same time, in 1929, Ramón Barragán was born in Vallarta, and as a young man, then without formal training, developed into one of the first artists to become the foundation of Arte Vallarta.
In 1952, with the town now dotted with a few hotels and a small but steady influx of tourists, Barragán invited his friends Joaquín Rodríguez Pedroza and Esteban Ramírez Guareño (who later designed the iconic crown atop Our Lady of Guadalupe church, recognized worldwide as the symbol of the town) to join him at the Hotel Paraíso in what would be Vallarta’s first art show. The rest is history.
As well as Barragán, among well-known local artists forming the core of the museum’s collection are Javier Niño, Ada Colorina, Manuel Lepe and Edgar Martínez.
The ARTe Vallarta Museo also showcases national and international artists. Currently up is an exhibit running through 2023 featuring art by Won Lee (1946-2021), a Korean-born artist who worked in Canada, China and Mexico, including Puerto Vallarta. He once called his workspace in Vallarta, “a beautiful, sunny, spacious studio with flowers all around and a view of the Sierra Madre.”
Indeed, “bright” and “sunny” are reflected time and again in much of the art featured at the Arte Vallarta Museo, much of it in the so-called “naïve” form, often characterized by a childlike simplicity of vision and execution.
On a recent Saturday, just before the monthly “First Saturday” event at the museum, which takes place from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on the first Saturday of each month, gallery director Nathalie Herling did a quick check to ensure everything was in place. She pointed to a painting of Gringo Gulch by Daniel Ichaurregui Bernal, reflecting that many people who visit the space love to scan the paintings for houses they either live in or are staying in, or for places they recognize.
Herling is a curator of contemporary and ethnographic art exhibitions in Mexico, Canada and the United States, who also owns and runs Art Vallarta, an artists’ cooperative that includes studios, kilns, pottery wheels, easels, looms, a kitchen, computers and more in Colonia Amapas, adjacent to Zona Romantica. She said the museum is a labor of love by all involved, a love of Vallarta that’s reflected in the Arte Vallarta genre.
“Many of the people who come here already love Vallarta, and the work here really draws them in and makes them connect with it on an even deeper level,” she said.
ARTe Vallarta Museo is located at G. Prieto 164, El Remance, Puerto Vallarta. Open Wednesday to Monday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and the first Saturday of each month, 6 to 8 p.m. Admittance free, cash wine/beer bar and food fee, 180 pesos.