Oaxaca City, also known as Oaxaca de Juárez, is known around Mexico for several things: its coffee, its traditional food, its colonial architecture, art and culture. Since we didn’t find so many exciting vegan food options in Oaxaca (apart from the few veganisable local dishes), we spent our time in the city focusing on its visual art scene and checking out the many free museums.
There are several, and they don’t only focus on contemporary art, though of course some do. In all of them, you can take photos as long as you don’t use flash and you may wish to leave a donation, but are not obliged to. Some have free lockers where you can leave your bags, and in others they won’t mind you taking bags in with you. Here’s our guide to the best free museums of Oaxaca.
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Museo de los Pintores Oaxaqueños
Displaying a permanent collection of works by artists who were born or worked mostly in Oaxaca downstairs and changing exhibitions of guest artists upstairs, this beautiful museum is a great place to familiarise yourself with contemporary Oaxacan art.
Not much context is given to the works and the text that is presented is in Spanish only. Nonetheless, the layout makes the progression of styles relatively clear and logical. It is housed in a well maintained colonial building with a typical courtyard at its centre and is a calm and quiet retreat from the busy Zócalo nearby.
One of the larger museum in Oaxaca, this contemporary art museum showcase art mostly by Mexican artists, and aims to represent the rich diversity of the cultures of Oaxaca state. Their mission is to show that this diversity has the potential for promoting unity and social development within one of Mexico’s poorest regions.
Consisting of two main indoor halls and three outdoor spaces, the museum is also occasionally host to various events including workshops of various kinds, dance performances and film screenings.
Museo Textil de Oaxaca
A unique and relatively small museum, this is the place to come to learn about Oaxaca’s rich textile traditions. With one main exhibition space and a well equipped area for occasional workshops for children with the objective of passing on the traditions and making textile art part of the education of the local youth.
The space is beautifully laid out in an old colonial building, and the temporary display that was up in the entrance courtyard when we visited was particularly striking. The attached shop has some lovely locally handmade items as well as a wealth of literature on the traditional textiles of the region should you wish to learn more.
Centro Fotográfico Manuel Alvarez Bravo
This simple gallery displays a regularly changing selection of photography from local and international photographers, from professionals to beginners and everything in between.
Though it is quite small with just four compact rooms surrounding a pleasant courtyard, you can easily spend an hour here if you take the time to absorb each piece.
Museo de Filatelia de Oaxaca
While the idea of a whole museum about stamps and letter sending may not sound so exciting at first, I actually found this to be one of the most interesting museums we visited in Oaxaca. With exhibitions on the history of letter sending, the Mexican postal service, special stamps from every corner of the world and stamp design, there’s a lot to see.
There’s also some curious art made with or inspired by stamps and related paraphernalia which was quite different that much of the other art there is to see in the city. The building itself is also quite fascinating, consisting of two colonial structures joined together with a modern, minimalist terrace and walkway, best experienced in the early evening light.
Instituto de Artes Gráficas de Oaxaca
From the street by the city’s largest square, this small place seems more like it’s just a shop and library, but in fact also has a few rooms of gallery space. With changing exhibitions around a common theme with works by artists from or living in Oaxaca, the focus is on graphic design using various techniques.
It’s not very touristy and has a nice vibe, being a good place to see where locals hang out, work and study while enjoying some art and the small but pleasant courtyard.
Here’s a map marking the locations of all of these free museums in Oaxaca: