World's Richest Man Opens Flashy Museum In Mexico Telecommunications mogul Carlos Slim calls the new Soumaya Museum in Mexico City a gift to his country. But critics say much of the art collection is made up of minor and mediocre pieces by big-name artists. Still, the museum is extremely popular with Mexicans.

World's Richest Man Opens Flashy Museum In Mexico

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But as NPR's Jason Beaubien reports, it's also being criticized by some as the pet project of a man who knows more about commerce than art.

JASON BEAUBIEN: Inside a bronze cast of Rodin's "The Thinker" dominates the open, airy lobby. There's also a colorful mural by Diego Rivera pointing towards the bathrooms.

ALFONSO MIRANDA MARQUEZ: This is the last mural of Diego Rivera.

BEAUBIEN: Alfonso Miranda Marquez is the director of the Soumaya Museum. The museum is named for Slim's late wife Soumaya who died in 1999. Slim's collection of more than 65,000 pieces is dominated by European artists including, El Greco, Van Gogh, Matisse, Degas, Picasso.

MIRANDA MARQUEZ: This is for the impressionists and it's very difficult to see these artists in Latin America. It's impossible to travel here, and be so close for Edouard Manet or for Renoir; this is also one of the highlights in our collection.

BEAUBIEN: There's an entire section for religious art. A Mexican portrait of the Virgin of Guadalupe hangs next to a Spanish painting of the Virgin of Toledo. Miranda says his goal is for the museum to become a cultural icon in Mexico City and present a different side of the capital.

MIRANDA MARQUEZ: Okay, we have problems of pollution, we have problems of violence, but you see here, there are people living and enjoying art. We are not afraid under the bed, you know, that this is a part of culture and, you know, for Mexico, for Latin America.

BEAUBIEN: James Oles, a professor of art history at Wellesley College and an expert on Mexican art, visited the Soumaya Museum last month just after it opened. He says things are displayed in the galleries simply because Slim owns them, not necessarily because they're great works of art. For instance, there's a large bronze cast of Michelangelo's Pieta on the stairs from the lobby leading up to the second level.

JAMES OLES: Michelangelo's Pieta is a white marble sculpture. It's unclear to me why anybody would want a bronze version of it. And why you would display such a thing in an art museum, since it is neither a Michelangelo nor a close approximation of the Michelangelo.

BEAUBIEN: Oles says Slim has some fine art but he says much of Slim's collection is made up of minor and mediocre pieces by big name artists. As an art collector, Slim has the same reputation that he's had in business - that he's always hunting for a bargain.

OLES: You know, he's one of the few people in the world that could actually afford great, great art at the cost of great art. I will tell you, there are many paintings and works of art hanging in the Soumaya Museum that I could afford on my professorial salary.

BEAUBIEN: Jason Beaubien, NPR News, Mexico City.

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