Puerto Vallarta's Art Scene: Gays from around the World Come to Bask on the Beaches and Purchase Mexico's Most Intriguing Art

By Tien, Benjamin | The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine), November 8, 2005 | Go to article overview

Puerto Vallarta's Art Scene: Gays from around the World Come to Bask on the Beaches and Purchase Mexico's Most Intriguing Art


Tien, Benjamin, The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)


I moved to Puerto Vallarta within six months of first setting eyes on this Pacific coast city, located 180 miles west of Guadalajara. There are few historic cobble-stoned beach towns with such a stunning mountain backdrop, or with a Malecon (the town's main ocean walk) that features sculptures along its palm-fined path. With more art galleries than churches, and a weekly hosted Art Walk, the local art scene here attracts serious collectors from around the world.

Of course, "P.V." holds a place in the camp hall of fame as the eternal destination of TV's Love Boat. Travelers also know Puerto Vallarta for its great gay scene, by far one of the most open and vibrant in Mexico--perhaps because of its popularity among foreigners and its proximity to Guadalajara, the second most populous city in Mexico, with its own large gay population. The very gay beach at Playa los Muertos, known as "Blue Chairs" for its signature-color chaise lounges, flies a rainbow flag high. There's also a lesser-known gay beach accessible only by boat about 12 miles south, in front of the remote gay guesthouse Paco's Paradise. Over 20 gay bars and nightclubs are found around Calle Olas Altas in the very queer "Romantic Zone," while the city is also home to a plethora of gay-only lodgings. For travelers who have traipsed through other parts of mostly Catholic and closeted Mexico, Puerto Vallarta is like a gay revelation.

Vallarta was placed squarely on the world map when director John Huston filmed The Night of the Iguana here in 1963. Lovebirds Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor were trailed by the world's paparazzi, Ava Gardner bought a house where she kept company with local young men, and Deborah Kerr brought her husband, Peter Viertel, who had previously been involved with Ava. Tennessee Williams, author of Iguana, also spent several months here with his partner.

It was about that time that Puerto Vallarta's first informal art galleries opened to showcase local talent--later including the vivaciously colorful work of Mexico's Huichol Indians, known for their peyote-fueled hallucinogenic rituals. By the late '70s, the Latin American school of magic realism was being taken seriously and commercial art galleries began to spring up, including the still-thriving Galeria Uno. Today there are over 30 art establishments, mostly found in historic downtown--one of the more scenic areas of the city--and the Romantic Zone.

Puerto Vallarta in the 21st century has become an important Latin American art center, and the wide variety of mediums and styles--folk art, sculpture, oils, watercolors, ceramics--attests to the continued prosperity of the scene. The exuberant, passionate spirit of Mexican art goes way beyond the famous self-portraits of Frida Kahlo. Modern taste leans toward reinterpretations of classical art with a very Latin intensity, resulting in rich complexity. The town has been the starting point of many internationally acclaimed artists, including Rodolfo Morales, Daniel Palma, Vladimir Cora, and Ramiz Barquet. During 'tart Season," November through April, you'll see art enthusiasts downtown and in the Romantic Zone with maps in hand, sipping cocktails as they stroll from one gallery to another in organized Art Walks.

Despite its growing fame, local art is still priced fairly. Galleria Dante owner Claire Guarniere says, "Art collectors who know the value of art are always impressed with what they can buy in Vallarta." Located in the Romantic Zone, the newly expanded Galleria Dante features artists in an indoor-outdoor space that invites the viewer to partake in the entire scene. …

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