While it may not compete with the likes of France or Italy, Bolivia is home to some wonderful artworks that reflect the nation’s diverse culture and turbulent history. From pre-Colombian indigenous works to sacrosanct religious art and colorful contemporary pieces, read on to discover the very best galleries showcasing the art of this fascinating Andean nation.
A gallery dedicated to Bolivia’s foremost contemporary artist, Mamani Mamani has become iconic in the Bolivian art scene for his colorful depictions of indigenous traditions. An Aymara Indian originally hailing from Cochabamba, his bold and colorful style draws inspiration from the ancient Tiwanaku people, whose artistic reincarnations are available in woven tapestries and alpaca clothing throughout the country. Located in La Paz’ museum hub of Calle Jaen, the gallery displays just a handful of his 3,000-plus works, some of which are on sale for a respectable price. Postcards and posters are available for those looking to take some of his work home without breaking the bank.
Bolivia’s number one indigenous art museum, ASUR focuses on traditional weaving as well as sculpture and other forms of indigenous art. Much of the work on display comes from the local Jal’qa and Tarabuco people, who still create the same style of art using similar methods as they did hundreds of years ago. Above all, the purpose of the facility is to preserve these pre-Colombian traditions and provide an important source of income for local artists by selling their work to the general public. Handicrafts such as ponchos, tapestries, leather goods and blankets are on sale for reasonable prices, while onsite live demonstrations show visitors how they are made.
Those interested in religious art should look no further than Sucre’s Museo Eclesiàstico. Housed inside the city cathedral, the museum holds the country’s best collection of Catholic paintings and artifacts, including numerous colonial-era paintings and extravagant relics from important saints. The highlight of the museum’s compulsory one-hour guided tour is definitely the divine 1601 painting of the Virgen de Guadalupe, the city’s patron saint, which has since been adorned with millions of dollars worth of precious gem stones and gold plating.
Much more than just an art gallery, mARTadero is a former slaughterhouse that has been converted into Cochabamba’s coolest artistic space. As well as painting and photographic exhibitions, the institution features all types of performing arts workshops alongside regular film screenings, plays and concerts. It’s particularly popular among the city’s creative youth and has a distinct alternative vibe.
Just one block away from Santa Cruz’ main plaza lies the city’s best art gallery, Manzana Uno (“first block,” from when manzana – “apple” – colloquially meant “block”). The gallery opened in 2005 after the extensive restoration of an abandoned building and the creation of a new leafy plaza that currently serves as an outdoor exhibition space. With over 120,000 annual visitors, Manzana Uno is crucial to Santa Cruz’ arts scene and has become so successful it receives funding from a variety of international organizations. Entrance is free and there are a number of exhibits hosting contemporary work from local artists.
Housed in a beautiful 19th century mansion on La Paz’ bustling main avenue is the city’s best modern art gallery. The building is something of an attraction in itself. Designed by Gustave Eiffel (of Eiffel Tower fame) in an Art Deco style, it features airy high ceilings and colorful stained glass windows. Inside is a fine collection of permanent and rotating exhibitions that focus on contemporary political issues among other things. Communist revolutionaries are particularly prevalent, with entire sections devoted to Che Guevara and Fidel Castro.