Art at the base of today’s museo
With snow, rain, and wind coming from all directions this past week, I needed to remind myself of sunny Spain. As I was digging in the archives for sun-drenched photos, I came upon an entry I never published on Madrid’s Museo de América. Below is my account from a visit there last (sunny!) May.
Arco de la Victoria, or, What you’ll see on your walk to the museum
What I expected
Before I visited, I assumed the museum would be to Spain what the British Museum is to England–a collection of the spoils of colonized countries. While at times it seemed as if every other item was wrenched from the Amazon, I was surprised to find a great range of items from all over the Americas, including the U.S. and Canada. The initial hint of this came during one of the first rooms, which had artifacts from Hawaii.
Museum art in the foreground, Faro de Moncloa in the background
Five themed sections
The museum is divided into five different sections, the first being El conocimiento de América. In the first section, maps show the route European explorers took to reach the New World, and excerpts from their journals pepper the wall. One thing I’d never seen before were sketches of this foreign land as the Europeans envisioned them. The animals looked like they had wandered over from books on Greek mythology, and the people looked no more realistic.
One of the first rooms
La realidad de América showed how the Americas changed after European explorers set foot there. Large, illuminated maps showed the change in demographics–and the overall increase in numbers–of the population among different countries.
La sociedad held artifacts, pottery, paintings, and other objects from daily life.
Representation of traditional living–par for the museum course, right?
What I found
At first, this part of the collection was most what I expected the museum to be like. Then, the collection shifted to a long corridor on the phases of life (birth, childhood, marriage, death, etc.). While the museum’s aim with this section was to focus on the commonalities of the human experience, I found that putting photos of the Spanish royal family side-by-side with artifacts from Latin America was jarring and even tacky.
Man from the Gulf of Mexico
The crux of the fourth area was La religión, a dizzying topic to tackle. There was a wealth of information in this section including funeral rites and all sorts of little gods and deities carved from wood and metal. Later, there was information about the religion introduced after European contact.
The fifth and last area, La comunicación, was perhaps the shortest of them all. It had a few old manuscripts and even copies of manuscripts too important to be on display. It also held a bit on indigenous languages of the Americas and, of course, Spanish.
This sealskin bag comes from Alaska
Ornate Bolivian carnival costume
And, of course, no history museum is complete without a room full of maps
To get to the Museo de América, take the metro to Moncloa or Islas Filipinas. Visiting hours are from 9:30 to 20:30 every day except for Sundays and holidays, when they are 10:00 to 15:00. Swing by on a Sunday for free entrance, or visit any other time for 3 Euros (1.50 for students).
Have you ever been to Madrid’s Museo de América? If so, what were your thoughts on it?