One of the great pleasures of visiting San Miguel de Allende is strolling aimlessly and browsing whatever galleries and boutiques catch your eye. The city’s revival in the 20th century dates to the founding of an art school in 1938, and ever since, artists have been drawn to the city’s well-preserved architecture and mild climate. With artists comes gentrification, of course, and San Miguel’s gallery scene feels quite chic nowadays.
The city has also seen the recent opening of stylish concept stores, one of which stands below a hotel I ended up recommending. These complexes assemble clothing boutiques, upscale home goods stores and, in some cases, gourmet shops and restaurants. (They’re essentially fashionable malls, though they would never describe themselves as such.)
This list includes the best galleries and concept stores that we encountered on our recent visit.
Set in a colonial-era building with carved-stone fireplaces and scalloped lintels over the doors, this concept store nevertheless feels very contemporary. The houselike arrangement of rooms displays provocative photography, enviable home furnishings and décor, and locally inspired clothing (even including some items for men), as well as the requisite metallic skulls and a Warhol-esque portrait of Frida Kahlo. In the central hall, ferns surround a stone sculpture of an angel, his face turned heavenward.
Casa R Concept Store
Mesones 83, Centro, San Miguel de Allende. Tel. (52) 415-688-1278
The most opulent of the concept stores in San Miguel de Allende, this collection of décor, clothing and jewelry boutiques deserves a look even if you’re interested in purchasing none of those things. The pieces tend to be self-consciously edgy; brass-spiked candle holders in Casa Armida would be ideal for an S&M dungeon, for example. And, of course, there is no shortage of skull sculptures. Also be sure to poke in to the exquisite Elisheva & Constance clothing and jewelry shop. Upstairs is one of San Miguel’s best steakhouses, Bovine.
Codigo Postal Design
Canal 16, Centro, San Miguel de Allende. Tel. (52) 415-152-6556
San Miguel’s largest concept store houses a number of appealing businesses. A gourmet corridor contains a macaron bakery and a Taittinger Champagne bar, for example, and the Kitchen is a full-fledged food hall, ideal for a casual lunch. An Ablu Botanica stall has bath products made with local herbs, which make ideal gifts to bring home. It was also fun to browse the Opal Mine, which carries a startling array of colors of the gemstone. Unfortunately, Deitx & Co., an upscale menswear shop, was closed when we visited, but we did have the foresight to make an appointment for a private tequila tasting at Casa Dragones’ jewel box of a bar. The obsidian-tiled space can fit a maximum of just six people. We tasted both the Joven, which comes in a crystal bottle and is apparently a favorite of Oprah’s, and the more pocketbook-friendly Silver. The rapid-fire commentary was recited by rote, but it was still great fun to have a tiny tequila bar all to ourselves for a bit.
Dôce 18 Concept House
Relox 18, Centro, San Miguel de Allende. Tel. (52) 415-152-1434
San Miguel’s most impressive concentration of art galleries is at Fábrica La Aurora, in a former textile factory built in 1902. It closed in 1991 and was later transformed to great effect into a space for artists. It wouldn’t be difficult to spend the better part of a day here, such is the number and quality of the galleries. One of my favorites was the pocket-size space of Italian artist Filippo Giusti, who was chatting with a patron to whom he had just sold one of his luminous paintings, done in a magical realism style. I was also impressed by the unusual works of James Harvey, who showed me how layers of translucent fabric give his pieces movement and dimensionality, a style inspired by how he saw the world after a concussion. The large paintings in a gallery shared by Beatriz Cota and Joaquín Piñeiro depicting dramatic abstract shapes and abstracted landscapes would look at home in a top gallery in New York or Los Angeles. The cheeky and very realistic paintings of Kelley Vandiver often draw inspiration from religious themes; they might be copied from an illuminated manuscript, if the saints’ heads weren’t those of birds. The Skot Foreman gallery contains pieces by blue-chip artists like Calder and Basquiat. And I adored the flower-filled Klimt-inspired paintings of Mariló Carral. A restaurant and bar in the back provide a shady spot for an art break.
Fábrica La Aurora
Calzada de la Aurora s/n, San Miguel de Allende. Tel. (52) 415-152-1312
This commendable gallery has two spaces, one devoted to shows and the other with a selection of different artists. In the former space, on Recreo, we saw the impressive Piedras (“stones”) exhibition of canvases by Carlos Clausell and Santiago Lourido, who created tactile, colorful portraiture and marbled, earth-toned abstract paintings, respectively. In the larger, year-old gallery on Sollano, the bright, rambling rooms contained an enviable collection of mostly Mexican art. Favorite pieces of mine included the remarkable “Astronauta” by Sabino Guisu, a “painting” created with smoke; the vibrant abstract paintings by Hassel Smith; and the mesmerizing “Talaria” by Ronald Mallory, in which mercury flows from one side of a glass box to another. Galería Nudo has two of the most important art spaces in the city.
Recreo 10 and Sollano 20, Centro, San Miguel de Allende. Tel. (52) 415-154-7179
Like Galería Nudo, Noel Cayetano concentrates on Mexican art, but in this case, the gallery narrows its focus even further, showcasing Oaxacan artists. This branch of Noel Cayetano opened in San Miguel in 2014. We saw an extravagantly beautiful show of paintings by Rosendo Pinacho, who creates strikingly colorful works that are sometimes abstract and sometimes resemble cubist-style collage. If this show is any indication of the usual quality of art that this gallery displays, Noel Cayetano is a must-see in San Miguel.
Noel Cayetano Arte Contemporáneo
Hernández Macías 68, Centro, San Miguel de Allende. Tel. (52) 415-121-1227
More of a handicraft shop than a gallery, San Martín de Porres stands at the end of the Mercado de Artesanías on the northern side of the street. Inside is a large selection of hand-painted sacred hearts, crucifixes and, yes, skulls. The prices are quite reasonable considering the quality of the work. If you would like to purchase a gift for a Catholic friend or family member, this is the place to come.
Andador Lucas Balderas 3a, Centro, San Miguel de Allende. Tel. (52) 415-115-1129
Affiliated with Galería Nudo (above), this small gallery displays works by important Filipino artist Romeo V. Tabuena, who lived in San Miguel de Allende from 1955 until his death in 2015. The numerous soulful portraits on display had great expressivity, and I also liked his colorful abstracted landscapes. His charming watercolor of a cat will also surely find plenty of admirers.
Showroom Romeo Tabuena
Recreo 36, Centro, San Miguel de Allende. Tel. (52) 415-154-7179