San Juan Readies for Buzzy Art Fair

A streetscape in old San Juan. Photo: Rachel Wang/

There are many good reasons to visit Puerto Rico—the sun, sand, nightlife; fresh takes on island cusine, not to mention the great rum cocktails.  Now there’s another compelling excuse to head down to this beautiful island—the launch of MECA (which stands for MErcado CAribeño, that’sSpanish for “Caribbean Market”), a buzzy art show whose goal is to focus on the broad range of of artistic talent in Puertro Rico and the Caribbean. It will take place in Santurce from June 1-4 (2017) at the Conservatory of Music. Puerto Rico has a vibrant art market and organizers of MECA are hoping the fair will increase international exposure to it. Among the exhibitors will be Marlborough Contempoary, Augustina Ferreyra, White Columns, and Ana Mas Projects.

Old San Juan. Photo: Chelsey Kent/

Whether you can make it to MECA or not, consider taking in the flourishing art scene with San Juan’s numerous galleries exhibiting top and emerging names from both Puerto Rico and the region’s islands, among them the Galeria Walter Otero (855 Ave. Ponce de León PMB, San Juan; 425, 787-627-579), an international player representing such artists as Andres Serrano, Anthony Giannini, and Axel Ruiz; the award sinning Obra Galeria Alergria (301 Calle Cruz, San Juan, 00901, Puerto Rico, 787-723-3206) that focuses on important contemporary artists like Domingo Garcia and Nick Quijano and Galeria Botello (208 Calle del Cristo,787-723-9987) in the heart of old San Juan, which draws collectors for its striking sculptures.

Tropical Mandala sculpture by Luis Torruella, at the El San Juan Hotel

While you’re in the art mood, check out the newly revamped El San Juan Hotel. This landmark property has always had historical significance (one of its designers was Morris Lapidus, who was credited with the “Miami Modern” resort style) and has long been known for its vibrant nightlife and ability to attract top name performers (among them Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis, Jr., and Tony Bennett). Now the hotel has called on contemporary local artists to help celebrate the new look of its exterior and interior public spaces and guest rooms. For starters, there’s the “Tropical Mandala” sculpture by Luis Torruella, known for his innovative large-scale works, at the entrance to the hotel. Torruella’s design of the eight-foot sphere that floats in a pool of water took its inspirational cues from the island’s music and dance, as well as its lush natural setting.

Nature and local culture were also themes for photographer Rosario Ferandez, whose work is exhibited in the lobby and Tower Room. Fernandez created two special pieces for the lobby that feature water and music references in a modern context. The photographic series highlights the beauty of the island’s flora, fauna and cultural elements with vivid design pieces. (Fernandez’s art is in numerous private collections in Puerto Rico, Spain and the U.S.) Giovan Cordero, a noted fine arts photographer who created a photography series exclusively for the hotel now on display in Tower Corridors, uses water as a medium to explore perception and reality. He seeks to displace recognizable images by shooting them underwater and challenges the viewer to determine their origin. Salvi Colom, known for his dramatic photographs of water, photographic collages, and mosaics, created the Casa del Mar series for a two-story ocean-front suite at the hotel.

The Gold Bar

      The property, which reopened in February of this year after a $60 million renovation, is now part of Hilton’s Curio Collection, a group of independent four and five-star hotels within the chain that are known for their local heritage and style. Jeffrey Beers, one of the most sought-after hotel and restaurant designers, oversaw the redesign which involved a restoration of the lobby’s historic and intricate mahogany woodwork, mosaic tiles, and $27 million 17th century Czech chandelier. The six-month undertaking resulted in a refurbishment that pays homage to the hotel’s original layout and interior architecture, while adding modern furnishings and design elements. The lobby now includes a “Gold Bar,” designed around the original mosaic tiling; a wine bar with VIP seating; the “Oval Bar” beneath the hotel’s historical chandelier and domed ceiling, and the 1920s-style Chico Lounge. The hotel also has an 11000-square foot grand ballroom, a popular site for island and destination weddings, as well as for many shows for San Juan Moda, the city’s Fashion Week.

The hotel’s interior with its intricate mahogany moldings and panels was restored to its former splendor.

With the restoration, the hotel now has nine restaurants. Chef Juliana Gonzalez, a native of Puero Rico, will soon open, Caña by Juliana Gonzalez, her first culinary venture on the island. The menu will focus on modern takes on local (and locally sourced) cuisine blended with Spanish, Middle Eastern and Asian influences, a global approach to cooking that has defined Gonzalez’s career.

The concierge area has a modern-retro Deco feel.

Art fair and gallery-hopping visitors eager for R and R can head to the spacious pool and beach areas, or try a restorative message at the hotel’s Well & Being spa, set to oepn in early summer.