Gallery Owner Arturo Rodriguez Reveals Tijuana’s True Colors
Ten years ago, the cultural scene in Tijuana was gaining momentum. The economy was doing well, and art collectors—both local and from nearby San Diego—were eager to buy. Then in 2008, drug-related violence exploded, which mired the city in a reputation it’s still struggling to overcome. But today, signs of a rebound are everywhere.
Galleries, shops, and cultural spaces are now launching, thanks to a government sponsored program that gives smallscale entrepreneurs—including artists—access to low-interest loans. “There’s a lot of movement and development because young creators who may have previously left Tijuana are choosing to stay,” says Arturo Rodríguez, the owner of La Caja Galería and an unofficial leader of the cultural renaissance. Here, he reveals his favorite spots, both old and new.
206 Arte Contemporaneo
It used to be that the city’s pasajes (alleys) were filled with curio shops selling jewelry and crafts. But many closed because of the struggling economy, and tiny galleries like this one have opened in their places. A passion project of two architects, a photographer, and an independent curator, it highlights regional up-and-comers and hosts regular artist-led conversations.
Across the way from 206 is another champion of homegrown talent, this one run by Julian Plascencia, a musician and the founder of the annual Jazz & Blues Festival, which takes place in May. (His brother Javier is a renowned local chef.) Past shows have included black-and-white photography and neorealistic paintings by Mexicali artist Pablo Castañeda.
La Caja Galería
Rodríguez’s own jewel box of a gallery recently added exhibition space in a neighboring warehouse, and doesn’t shy away from boundary-pushing multimedia works. The current exhibit features Jaime Ruiz Otis, who repurposes found objects like cotton and tires in his large-scale works. Rodríguez also leads private art tours ($300, including lunch).
Centro Cultural Tijuana
When cecut, as it is known, opened in 1982, it was a game changer, with a history museum, an aquarium, a 1,000-seat performance hall, a botanical garden, and the city’s first and only IMAX theater. In 2008, after expanding with the bright red El Cubo (The Cube), it began attracting big-name exhibitions like the recent show of Frida Kahlo’s personal photographs.
Centro Estatal De Las Artes Tijuana
This modern museum—a vision of blue-green glass and concrete designed by Eugenio Velázquez Bustamante—made an architectural statement when it debuted in 2013. The main gallery, with its soaring ceilings, sets the stage for exhibits like this month’s “La Voluntad de la Piedra,” an international collection of graphic art, video, and sculpture.
Located in a still-emerging part of downtown, this high-design boutique carries made-in-Mexico objets d’art: delicate gold jewelry crafted with semiprecious stones, contemporary wooden stools painted in neon colors, and the owner’s own line of soft leather purses.
TJ In China Project Space
Partners in life and in business, Mely Barragán and Daniel Ruanova launched this storefront on Avenida Revolución to promote new artists. (They had a similar business in Beijing before being lured back with a grant—hence the name.) Every few months, they invite an artist to live in the studio and create site-specific pieces. Now on view: works by Milan-based Annalisa Furnari.
Tijuana is the birthplace of the Caesar salad—make sure to try the legendary version at Caesar’s (entrées $14–$16), where the waitstaff prepare it tableside. The spot is classic Italian, with black-andwhite checked floors and framed celebrity photos on the walls.
Verde y Crema
A pink neon "RESTAURANT" sign greets diners at Verde y Crema (entrées $8–$19). Order Jair Tellez’s braised octopus tacos, which are almost too pretty to eat.
At Food Garden in Zona Río, you’ll find stalls selling everything from mole chilaquiles to fruit paletas (ice pops).