Mexico has many incredible cultural and artistic achievements to celebrate. During our most recent trip to Mexico City we spent a lot of time outdoors walking around. With many of the city’s museums closed, the city had lost some of it’s buzz and we had to get creative. As we wandered the streets we came to realize we could make our own outdoor museum by exploring places around the city with public art on display. We have included many different types and styles of expression, including outdoor sculptures, monuments and anti-monuments. Today we would like to showcase some of our personal favourites from our trips to Mexico City.
The city is big and the street art is plentiful. As a result, there was plenty that we missed. We were lucky, as there are a lot of great museum-worthy sculptures and monuments found around the city. Most of the art is not hard to find, especially along Paseo de la Reforma, the city’s major thoroughfare downtown. During our daily walks, this is the artwork of the city that caught our eye. We found many famous pieces and a few lesser-known ones that we found in the most unlikely places. Many parts of the city act as an outdoor museum. These are the 15 Incredible Public Art Pieces that we found in Mexico City.
Mexico City is huge. During our most recent trip to the city we walked around a lot, taking as many pictures as possible. We think this collection will do a good job of showing off some of the best public art the city has to offer.
15 Incredible Public Art Pieces in Mexico City
1 – El Caballito de Sebastián
Location: Paseo de Reforma (at Avenida Juarez)
Artist: Sebastián / Enrique Carbajal
Name: El Caballito / The Horse
We will begin our exploration of Mexico City’s public art with a trip along Paseo de la Reforma. This is El Caballito, or “the horse”, which is a very yellow example of the public art that the city has to offer. It is a 28-meter (92 foot) tall steel sculpture and is the artist’s very abstract depiction of the head of a horse, painted with bright yellow enamel. It was designed to honour the Olmec culture, which it draws some inspiration from.
This massive sculpture replaced another iconic statue of the same name. The original El Caballito was created by Manuel Tolsá, one of Mexico’s celebrated artists. This original statue occupied this place for over 100 years, moved to a new home in Plaza Manuel Tolsá. Sebastián accepted the challenge of replacing the iconic statue with a bold design of his own.
The artist – who is known simply as Sebastián – has created many sculptures during his career, many of which are found in Mexico City. This would become one of the artist’s most memorable (both loved and hated) exhibitions, constructed in front of Torre Caballito, was inaugurated in 1992.
The original Caballito was dedicated to Carlos V and depicted him riding on top of a horse. To the artist, this “meant conquest, domination, and I don’t like that. Carlos IV’s horse is stepping on the symbol of pre-Hispanic weapons, a quiver, the shield with lances.” The new statue would not feature any rider and instead only an abstract representation of the horse’s head.
2 – Cocodrilo de Leonora Carrington
Location: Paseo de Reforma
Artist: Leonora Carrington
A little bit further along Paseo de la Reforma is this crocodile like piece by surrealist artist Leonara Carrington. It is both familiar and fantastic, depicting 5 crocodile-like beasts riding on the back of a larger crocodile-headed boat. It is like an image out of a kids fairy tale. Cocodrilo is quite a massive piece, with the bronze sculpture weighing in at nearly 5 tonnes and is 8 meters long. We really loved this piece, as it was unlike any other art piece we saw while visiting Mexico City. It has a very surrealist and imaginative style imprinted on this sculpture.
This strange and beautiful sculpture of a crocodile comes from the wonderful and weird mind of the artist. The personal history of Leonora Carrington is actually quite fascinating. She was born in Lancastershire, England in 1917. She spent her youth traveling around Europe, befriending artists like Salvador Dali and Pablo Picasso. During the second World War, her partner Max Ernst was arrested and she was forced to escape Europe. She married a Mexican diplomat named Renato Leduc (a friend of Pablo Picasso’s) and moved to Mexico in 1941.
She would go on to become a celebrated artist in her adopted country, where her artwork flourished. During her career she would go on to become a well known novelist, sculpter and painter. She played a major role in the surrealist movements in the 1930s and the Woman’s liberation movement of the 1970s. She would spend most of her life in Mexico, living to be 94 years of age before passing away in 2011.
3 – +43
Location: Paseo de Reforma (at Avenida Juarez)
This sculpture is an anti-monument, constructed to demand justice for 43 teachers and students who were killed in 2014. Many of the sculptures and other large-sized artwork that you can find along Paseo de la Reforma take up a political tone.
“+43” was the first of these anti-monuments to appear along Paseo de la Reforma, which in turn has inspired other causes to place their grievances out in the open. It has inspired other protest-monuments (some of which you will see further down our list).
This anti-monument took up residence along Paseo de la Reforma in 2015. It remembers the 43 Ayotzinapa teachers and students who were abducted and assumed to have been murdered in Guerrero in 2014. The truth is still at large and there appears to be a government cover-up. Beneath the “+43” monument is a message that reads, “Because they were taken alive, we want them back alive,” a slogan that has been chanted at countless protests across the country.
While researching this monument, I was unable to track down the original artist of this particular piece. The +43 monument was rouge, and was put up without permission of the city. It stands as a permanent reminder of the tragedy of the loss of life.
4 – Estela de Luz
Location: Paseo de Reforma (at Bosque Chaputlpec)
Artist: Architects Cesar Pérez Becerril, Martin Gutiérrez Guzmán and Raúl Pela Arias
Name: Estela de Luz
This will be the tallest monument on our list. The Estela de Luz (Pilar of Light) is quite hard to miss, visible from many places in the city. It towers above Paseo de la Reforma at an impressive 104-meters tall. At night, it lights up. It is constructed out of two planes formed by 1704 quartz panels, “each one of them symbolizes the two centuries of the bicentennial and the two cultures that are the essence of our miscegenation.”
It is located at the end of Paseo de la Reforma, at the entrance to Chaputlpec park. It was erected off to the side, as to not obstruct any sight-lines along Mexico’s most famous street. In 2009, a joint effort by different levels of government teamed up to find someone to create this monument. It celebrates the 200 years of Mexican independence from Spanish Rule and 100 years since the revolution.
“The Estela de Luz… celebrates 200 years of history, which symbolizes who we are as Mexicans and of which we are proud.
Each 104 m high plane (which obeys the sum of 52 with which the pre-Hispanic cycle was defined) signifies a century, at the same time one of them the indigenous culture and the other the Spanish culture, the structure that unites them and the light from which they are essentially amalgamated into a whole representing our Mestizo Mexican people.”– The Panamerican Architecture Digital Archive www.arquitecturapanamericana.com
5 – Mexicraneos
Location: Paseo de la Reforma
Artist: Various Artists
Now for one of our personal favourites. This is an ambitious and multi-artist project that aims to change the way that we approach art. More accurately, it changes the way that art approaches us. We first stumbled upon this incredible project in 2017 when we were visiting Mexico City and very quickly fell in love with them. This exhibition has traveled to several different cities around the world, but always returns home to Mexico City. The 2020 edition – which we just missed – took place between October 13 and November 10th.
The project is meant to inspire and drawing upon the rich cultural history of the country. “Mexico is full of folklore and tradition, but there is an ancient celebration that, year after year, we seek to welcome those who are no longer with us: the Day of the Dead, a combination of Aztec culture and the colonial era.”
“Mexicráneos is an urban art project which arises with the aim of enhancing Mexican culture, taking into account one of the most important celebrations of Mexicans, “THE DAY OF THE DEAD.”
Represented by monumental skulls where traditional and modern art come together in the hands of emerging and established artists of great recognition who express their affection for our country and culture under the motto “MEXICAN PRIDE”.“– Mexicraneos.com
These painted skulls are meant to invoke the Day of the Dead celebrations and the unique relationship that Mexican culture interacts with death. This exhibition has just entered it’s third year of taking over the streets of Mexico City and has even traveled internationally, with exhibitions in France (Paris and Lille).
6 – Puerta 1808
Location: Paseo de Reforma (at Avenida Juarez)
Artist: Manuel Felguérez Barra
Name: Puerta 1808
This monument – Puerta 1808 – was built to honour “the memory of the members of the City Hall of Mexico City , which in 1808 were the first to speak of popular sovereignty and who defended the rights of the city and the entire country ”.
Puerta ( which in English means “Gate”) was inaugurated as part of the celebrations of the Bicentennial of the Independence of Mexico. This statue is located nearby our first selection (El Caballito) along Paseo de la Reforma. It is 15 meters tall and 2 meters wide and was designed to be an abstract representation of a gateway, marking the entrance towards the historic center of the city.
The artist responsible for Puerto 1808 was one of the most famous artists in the Mexican Abstract movement, who broke away from artists such as Diego Riviera in the mid 20th century. He was born in Zacatecas in 1928 and went on to be one of the most famous artists of his generation. He passed away in 2020.
Visually, it has become an important part of Mexico City. We both enjoyed taking pictures with this monument as it visually plays with the nearby Caballito statue. It was inaugurated in 2007, when the artist was 80 years old, becoming a lasting monument for the city.
“Symbolically is a door and at the same time an acknowledgment of Primo de Verdad. This work is an entrance to the Historic Center, it marks the beginning of the independence ideas that the city council of Mexico City promulgated in 1808, and later the forced passage of several revolutionary contingents ”.– Manuel Felguérez Barra
7 – Monument to the Revolution
Location: Plaza de la República
Artist: Carlos Obregón Santacilia
Name: Monument to the Revolution
This massive domed structure is the Monument to the Revolution, located close to the historic center of Mexico Cit. It sits in a great plaza commemorating the republic of Mexico and memorializing the heroes of the revolution, which took place between 1910 and 1924.
Originally, this was designed to be the Federal Legislative Palace, and would have been home to the assembly and living quarters of the congressmen. Construction began with the first stone being placed in 1910. This construction would end up being put on hold when the revolutionary war broke out and was never finished.
Only the dome remains from the original plan. During and after the revolution, it remained untouched for 25 years, never to see its original use become a reality. The monument to the Revolution was born out of this half built structure. In 1938 it would be completed by Mexican architect Carlos Obregón Santacilia, who turned the domed structure into a memorial.
This structure is 61 meters (220 foot) tall. During its transformation, it was redesigned with an art deco flair and has become an important iconic building in the heart of Mexico City. It would act as a memorial and a mausoleum for the fallen heroes of the Revolution. Many of the greatest heroes of the revolution – Pancho Villa, Francisco Madero, Venustiano Carranza, Plutarco Elías Calles and Lázaro Cárdenas – are entombed here. There is also the Museum of the Revolution located underneath.
8 – 49 ABC
Location: Paseo de la Reforma
Artist: Unknown Artist
Name: 49 ABC
This colourful sculpture captured our attention from afar. As we approached we quickly we realized this was an anti-monument constructed to memorialize something tragic. Our suspicions were unfortunately confirmed. This sculpture remembers the 49 children who died in a fire in a government daycare facility in Northern Mexico back in 2009.
This event was extremely tragic and made even more difficult for the families as the 19 people who were deemed responsible were never charged. This monument was erected by the families of the 49 children in front of the Social Security offices where it continues to remind the agency of the tragedy.
The name of the daycare was ABC. Next to this anti-monument is the phrase “nunca mas” which loosely translates to “never more/again”. This powerful anti-monument tricks the viewer into thinking it will be light and cheerful with the big colourful letters.Instead, it is revealed to be a sad memorial to the 49 kids who died (with another 70 injured) in the ABC fire in 2009. No one was charged for the tragedy and this protest monument was placed here June 2017 by the parents of the lost children.
9 – Hombre mirando al infinito
Location: Plaza Necaxa
Artist: Jose Luis Cuevas
Name: Hombre mirando al infinito
While wandering home after a day out in Mexico City, we noticed this large sculpture from afar and had to get a closer look. This is the “Man looking at Infinity”, a hidden gem located a few blocks away from Paseo Reforma at Plaza Necaxa. We ate lunch across the street and when we finished, we decided to explore it further.
This sculpture comes from the mind of Jose Luis Cuevas, who created this piece in honour of his wife. There is an “In honour of Berta” located at the base of the sculpture which was installed in 2000, shortly after her death.
This particular sculpture was created the same year of his wife Bertha’s death, inspired by this sad event. The body of the figure seems very familiar, while the face is more abstract and elusive. The statue is obviously meant to portray a very thoughtful pose. The focus of this statue is gazing off towards infinity, contemplating it’s own place in the universe.
Jose Luis Cuevas played a role in the art movements in Mexico as part of the Generación de la Ruptura (the “breakaway Generation”) movement of the early 1950s. It ran in contrast with the muralist movement of the post war world, focusing on personal issues instead of social. It wasn’t bound by any one art style but was greatly influenced by the trending towards more abstract art. Cuevas has a museum in Mexico City dedicated to his work.
10 – Monumento a los Niños Héroes
Location: Bosque Chaputlpec
Artist: Architect Enrique Aragón and sculptor Ernesto Tamariz
Name: Monumento a los Niños Héroes
This monument is about the ultimate sacrifice done in honour of Mexico. It’s official name Altar a la Patria (Altar to the Homeland). To the locals, it is more commonly known as the Monumento a los Niños Héroes (Monument to the child heroes). This is a massive marble construction found inside of Chaputlpec Park. It was installed in 1952 to remember the 6 young cadets who died trying to defend Mexico during the Mexico-America war, which lasted between 1846 and 1848.
In September of 1847, around 8000 American soldiers arrived at the gates of Chaputlpec Castle. These 6 boy soldiers defied the order to retreat, instead choosing to defend with their lives. This is an important cultural moment in Mexican History As a result, these child soldiers are celebrated. There is one legend that says one of the soldiers – Juan Escutia – chose to jump to his death rather than surrender, done while wrapped in the Mexican flag.
The 6 towering marble pillars is in a semi-circle, and each one remembers one of these boy soldiers. Each statue has a niche to hold the urn with their remains. Lieutenant Juan de la Barrera and military academy (which was located at the castle) named Agustín Melgar, Fernando Montes de Oca, Vicente Suárez, Juan Escutia and Francisco Márquez.
Together, they make up the “ninos heroes”.
11 – El Ángel de la Independencia
Location: Paseo de Reforma
Name: El Ángel de la Independencia
One of those inner city places that simply must be visited. It sits in the middle of Paseo de la Reforma and is difficult to miss. It is a great place to meet friends to catch the sunset or a stop on your way for dinner. Today, it has become an important focal point for the city as many celebrations and protests end up marching here.The monument remembers the 100 year anniversary of Mexico’s fight for independence from Spain, which began in 1810.
The Angel of Independence column is 36 meters (118 feet) tall, with the very top of the monument is the Greek figure Nike, the goddess of Victory. This statue weighs in over 7 tonnes It is a true heavyweight. It was commissioned in 1900 by President Diaz as a way to memorialize the heroes of the war for independence. The first stone was laid in 1902 and it was completed in 1910. In 1925 it was also converted to include a Mausoleum for many of the heroes of the war of independence remains were moved here.
It is said that the Angel is holding a laurel crown above the head of Miguel Hidalgo (who started the independence meeting by decreeing “Viva Mexico!) and the entire nation below, while her other hand holds the broken chain, symbolizing breaking free from Spain. The base has 4 figures dedicated to law, war, justice and peace.
12 – Simon Bolivar Monument
Location: Paseo de Reforma
Artist: Pietro Canonica
Name: Simon Bolivar Monument
Simon Bolivar is remembered around the latin world because of the role he played in the independence movement which began in South America. Equestrian Statues are a “style” that goes back as far as ancient Greece, meant to glorify the rider.
Simon Bolivar was born to a wealthy family in Venezuela in 1783, but quickly became the people’s hero because of his role in the revolution to free the Americas. This monument was constructed in 1976, modeled after the original by Pietro Canonica which is found in Rome, Italy. This statue is located north of the city center in a small plaza in the center of Paseo de la Reforma.
He is known as the “liberator” as he led the way in the revolutions against the Spanish Empire helping to liberate Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia. He would go on to be the President of Gran Columbia for over 10 years (1819-1830) and the dictator of Peru (from 1823-26).
13 – Monumento a la Madre
Artist: Luis Ortiz Monasterio
Name: The Monumento a la Madre
Monumento a la Madre has three main sculptures with a large wall behind that looks out into a large plaza. The three main figures include the central figure holding a child in her arms and two indigenous figures on either side, a woman with an ear of corn and a man writing.
In Mexico, the family is very important. Sitting at the top of that pyramid is the matriarch of the family; mom. The Monumento a la Madre (Monument of the Mothers) is meant to give the mother a fitting large scale memorial. The first brick was laid in 1944 on mothers day and five years later it was inaugurated, on May 10, 1949.
Luis Ortiz Monasterio is one of Mexico’s most famous sculpture artists, with a career that spanned over 60 years. He took part in the muralist movements before becoming best known as a sculptor. The artist was known for using many of the ingenious images for inspiration of his work. This was created and designed by Mexico City born artist Luis Ortiz Monasterio while the architectural side of this monument was completed by José Villagrán García.
This plaza (close to Paseo de la Reforma) is a great place to visit on a Sunday as many local artists come to sell paintings and photographs in the plaza. During the 2017 earthquake in Mexico City this monument was damaged and was restored by 2018 when it was reopened to the public.
14 – Alas de Mexico
Location: Paseo de la Reforma
Artist: Jorge Marín
Name: Alas de Mexico
The Alas de Mexico first appeared on the streets of Mexico City in 2010 when it was part of the “Wings of the City” exhibition. It has become one of the most photographed sculptures in the city thanks to the interactive element of it, visited by thousands of people every year. This sculpture is located along the tree-lined paths of Reforma and invites the viewer to walk up the steps to become a part of this art project.
This sculpture comes from the mind of Jorge Marín. It is also a very international piece of art, as there have been several other installations around the world in 13 cities on three continents. These wings can fly.
“In a blunt action towards space, Wings of Mexico aims to recover the relationships societies channel through public places, highlighting their nature as places where day-to-day life happens, along the people and the everyday activities: just as the photographs people take upon them capture an ephemeral instant, the sculpture gives us the possibility to stop for a moment and capture it in a shared dream, where our personal interpretation is blended together with myth and history, the sculpture turns us into winged beings, like the ones in stories of old and, for a moment, they make us eternal.”– Jorge Marín (via www.jorgemarin.com.mx)
What we love about art pieces like this one is that no two pictures are the same because the viewer becomes the subject of the piece. This exhibit as exhibitions found in Dubai, The Hague, Costa Rica, Berlin, Quebec and Mexico City (to name just a few).
15 – Monolith of Tlaloc
Location: Museum of Anthropology
Name: Monolith of Tlaloc
This is Tlaloc, the Aztec god of rain. It will be the oldest monument on our list, worthy of occupying the final spot. It is located in it’s now semi-permanent home in front of the Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City. Tlaloc was one of the most powerful gods, responsible for water and rain, making him an important deity. It was discovered in the 1800s in a small town 30 km from Mexico City and was moved to Mexico City in the 1960s.
The rain god was worshiped long before the modern Aztecs, back to the original inhabitants of the area, the mysterious builders of Teotihuacan. `This stone monolith is likely to have been carved in the 5th Century CE. The statue is huge. It is 7 meters (23 feet) tall and weighs in at over 150 tonnes, making it one of the largest monoliths found in the Americas. The Aztec god was quite powerful and this sculpture is quite worthy of its size and stature.
There are legends that say this monolith has magic powers. The monolith was removed from the village of Coatlinchan in 1964, in exchange for a road, a school and a hospital. A specialty made trailer had to be constructed in order to move it. On the day that it arrived in Mexico City there was a terrible storm which rained on the festivities. Despite the weather, there were still over 25,000 people who came out to the Zocolo to welcome it to the city. It was eventually moved to its current home in front of the Museum of Anthropology.