During my week in San José, my dental appointments are almost always in the afternoon, so I spend the mornings by the pool talking to the other turisimas dental. One day everyone else happens to have early appointments, and I find myself on my own. I decide to visit the Museo de Arte Costariccense, which is just a short walk from the hotel, through La Sabana Parque. This park was previously home to San José’s airport, and the building in which the museum is now located housed the gates to incoming and outgoing flights. Costa Rica’s flying needs outgrew the space, and the airport is now located several miles away. (In the photo of the park, below, you can see its previous incarnation as a runway.)
The small, two-story museum is currently exhibiting the work of just one artist, Otto Apuy, who works in a variety of media, primarily painting and multimedia installations. I’m delighted by the latter, most of which are whimsical. The museum even has a small permanent collection of miniatures, one of my favorite things in the world. Unfortunately, nothing is identified by name, only numbers, so I don’t have a clue what some of the more abstract pieces are about. After browsing through the whole exhibit, I ask someone in the office if they have a brochure to go with the show.
Nobody speaks English, but, much to my surprise, they lead me to a man standing with a group of people and introduce him as none other than the artist, Otto Apuy. Maybe it’s my dazzling new teeth, but Señor Apuy takes an immediate liking to me, and offers to guide me on a tour of his life’s work. I’m thrilled.
It turns out he’s also a writer, and when I tell him I am too, he gives me a signed copy of one of his books (in Spanish, though I confessed I only understand un pequito. When I tell him my name, his face lights up: his wife’s name is Marcy. We amble through the museum, stopping now and then when I ask a question about a piece of work or when he wants to tell me something about it.
Under the impression that I’m spending time with a modern-day Pollack or Dali (not for the substance of the work but their prominence as artists), I feel like I’ve hit some artistic jackpot. Back at the hotel I immediately go to the computer room and Google Otto Apuy, who’d told me his work has been exhibited in New York and Boston. Unfortunately, I find no evidence of this; as far as I can tell, Señor Apuy is well-known in Costa Rica – and only in Costa Rica.
Nonetheless, my compadres at the hotel are duly impressed when I tell them the story. Christian, the hotel’s receptionist and all-around troubleshooter, translates the inscription Apuy wrote in the book he gave me – not only can’t I understand the Spanish, but his handwriting is nearly inscrutable. It says something like “With affection and friendship…”
Unlike in North American museums, picture-taking is permitted.
The photo on bottom right is of a permanent outdoor sculpture titled Tres Mujeres. The rest are by Otto Apuy.