An interview with Emiliano Valdés, chief curator at Medellín, Colombia’s modern art museum, about the new wing it just unveiled, and the city’s growing arts scene.

By Nell McShane Wulfhart
September 15, 2015
Medellin Museum of Modern Art.
Credit: Courtesy of the Medellin Museum of Modern Art.

Medellín’s Museo de Arte Moderno, the modern art museum known as the MAMM, is housed in a repurposed steel factory in the rapidly gentrifying Ciudad del Rio neighborhood. Formerly housing only temporary (though dynamic and stimulating) exhibits, the museum debuted a brand new extension, designed by Peruvian architecture firm 51+1, on September 2.

This means that the museum’s collection of mainly Colombian artists can now be on permanent display, and its presence underscores the rapid rise of the city’s arts scene. We spoke with chief curator Emiliano Valdés about the new extension and Medellín’s growing arts culture.

The MAMM seems to be leading the charge in regards to the new arts scene in Medellín. Can you tell me a little bit about why the museum is so important?

MAMM is both a cause and a result of Medellín’s current cultural effervescence. It’s happening not only in the visual arts, but also in music, design, and architecture. The expansion both propels the scene forward and responds to a growing demand for exhibitions and connections with a wider arts circuit.

It will also house a state-of-the-art film and music theatre, as well as education and multi-purpose rooms, exhibition galleries, offices, and more. I think the museum is and has been very relevant, because it was started by a group of artists and intellectuals who not only identified the need for the museum, but have also endorsed it and accompanied it along its different stages.

On the other hand, MAMM is and has been one of the more professional museums in the country (with some exceptions, the museum scene in Bogota is rather uneventful), and with the expansion, it will become the largest. It is also a museum that has dared to hire a director from outside the city and a curator from outside the country. I think all this points to a current and agile view of the role the museum should play in the city, the country, and in regards to an international art world. It has also maintained a close relationship with the local artists while presenting international shows, a strategy we plan on strengthening over the next few years.

Medellin Museum of Modern Art.
Credit: Courtesy of the Medellin Museum of Modern Art.

In terms of the arts in Medellín, is there anything that stands out to you as particularly new or exciting happening in the city right now? Have you noticed a difference in the last few years?

I think the most important aspect is that Medellín is trying to become its own center. Meaning, we are all working toward creating a scene that does not depend on the capital but that is, though connected, also self-sufficient. Galleries are going to international art fairs, and artists are not traveling to Bogota anymore, but rather studying abroad and then coming back to Medellín.

I think that is essential in creating a scene that is healthy and that does not feed a larger, Bogota-based arts scene, but that has a center of its own. There is support from the local and central governments for different art projects, and I think people are really taking advantage of that. I just moved to Colombia in January, so I can’t really compare it to what happened before, but I think this is a very exciting time for the museum as well as for the city.

Is there anything happening, arts-wise, in the future that's going to be a big deal for the city? A fair, a festival, a new museum?

The city is strengthening its institutions and, more than any event, I think that process is fundamental: we are opening this 7,200-square-meter expansion, young galleries are tapping into an international art market, there seems to be a different festival every other week: design, poetry, environmental consciousness, and more.

Which arts spaces in Medellín do you think are doing the most interesting work right now?

Lokkus, Banasta and Plecto, as far as younger galleries go. Taller7, Campos de Gutiérrez and Porestosdías for residencies and alternative spaces.

The Encuentro Internacional de Medellin and Museo Casa de la Memoria are interesting institutions but there’s also the Centro Colombo Americano, Casa Museo Pedro Nel Gómez, Museo El Castillo, el puente_lab, Centro Cultural Moravia. In general, there are a lot of things happening and I am still in the process of discovering many of them, so this is a very incomplete list. But it’s a start!

Nell McShane Wulfhart is based in Uruguay, and writes about South America for Travel + Leisure. Follow her on Twitter at @nellmwulfhart.