The Museo de Arte Nacional building today. In the 1960's the building was the international airport's control tower and terminal.
The Museo de Arte Nacional building in L aS Sabana today. The building was once the main passenger terminal and control tower for the old international airport, prior to the construction of the new airport, the Juan Santamaría in Alajuela.

QCOSTA RICA – It is surprising how many expats don’t realize that Costa Rica has an art museum. Actually Costa Rica has a number of art museums, but the main one, the Museo de Arte Costarricense (or MAC) is definitely worth a visit.

The Museum is on the east end of the huge Sabana Park, about a mile west of Downtown San José. The park was the original international airport for San José in the pre-jet era, and the wonderful neo-colonial building that was once the main passenger terminal has become the MAC.

Costa Rica is a country that is proud of its heritage, and you can feel this as you visit the MAC. The Museum has a collection of about 7,000 pieces (oil paintings, water colors, pencil sketches, statues and much more) but it only has room to exhibit a couple of hundred pieces at one time.

This means that you can visit the MAC over and over, and you will always see something new. It also means that you can spend an hour or two and you can thoroughly enjoy the displayed pieces. It is enough so that you will be impressed, but not so much that you will be overwhelmed.

A family in their Sunday best on the way to Mass and to visit friends. By Tomas Povedano, a native of Spain who became an art professor at the University of Costa Rica
A family in their Sunday best on the way to Mass and to visit friends. By Tomas Povedano, a native of Spain who became an art professor at the University of Costa Rica

Most of the works are from Costa Rican artists from the 19th and 20th centuries. (This is the largest collection of Costa Rican art anywhere.) There are also works from other artists, mostly Latin American. The Museum provides explanations of many of the works both in Spanish and in English.

No matter what wonderful pieces of art are on display, the work that always gets the most reaction from visitors is The Golden Room (Salón Dorado). It is easy to see why. It is simply stunning.

The Golden Room is on the second floor of the Museum, and was originally the Diplomat Lounge when the building was part of the international airport. It contains a massive bas relief that covers the entirety of all four walls, from a 3-foot wainscoting to the ceiling. This bas relief depicts the history of Costa Rica in images as you walk clockwise around the room.

It starts with images of pre-Columbian Indian villages, it shows the discovery by Columbus, and early colonial scenes, and it moves through history to the early 20th century. (The work was created in 1939-40.)

The bas relief in The Golden Room is the work of sculptor Louis Feron, a native of France who lived in Costa Rica for about ten years. He carved the images in stucco, which he then coated with a layer of bronze. It is truly remarkable and it is well worth the visit.

The MAC is one of the great treasures of San José. It is open from Tuesday through Sunday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Closed on Mondays. And here is the best part: It is absolutely free. Bring your kids and grand-kids. This has to be one of the best deals in Costa Rica.

Examples of murals by Costa Rican artists.
Examples of murals by Costa Rican artists.

 

qcr150112-3
20th Century scenes depicted in the bas relief in the Golden Room.
qcr150112-4
Columbus lands on the “Rich Coast,” a segment of the bas relief in the Golden Room.

Michael Miller is the author of the first and only guide book that focuses on Downtown San José, titled: The Real San José.