Museo Soumaya holds the extensive collection of art, relics, historical documents, and coins of Carlos Slim and his late wife Soumaya, after whom the museum was named. The museum displays works by many of the best known European artists from the 15th to the 20th century. It also contains a large collection of casts of sculptures by Auguste Rodin.
The museum is owned by the Carlos Slim Foundation and was founded in 1994 as a private institution. In 2011 it opened in a new location which cost over $70 million to build. The new building, a shiny silver cloud-like structure reminiscent of a Rodin sculpture, was designed by Mexican architect Fernando Romero, who is married to a daughter of Carlos Slim. Interestingly, Mexican president Felipe Calderón has praised the museum as a place where ‘Mexicans can learn about the great masters of all time’.
The museum exhibits a total of 380 casts and works of art by Rodin. In addition to that some notable European artists whose works are displayed include Salvador Dalí, Pablo Picasso, painters form the circle of Leonardo da Vinci, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Joan Miró, Vincent van Gogh, Henri Matisse, Claude Monet, Murillo, El Greco, and Tintoretto.
The most valuable work of art in the collection is believed to be a version of Madonna of the Yarnwinder by Leonardo da Vinci. Another version of the same painting has been valued at over £30 Million. Several Mexican artists are also featured, including Diego Rivera and Rufino Tamayo. The director of the museum has claimed that the total worth of the art it holds is over $700 million. Besides artworks, the museum also hosts the world’s largest collection of pre-Hispanic and colonial era coins.
Slim has described the museum as his attempt to increase the ‘humanistic capital’ of Mexico City. He has noted that since many Mexicans cannot afford to travel to Europe to view art collections there, it is important to house a prestigious collection of European art in Mexico itself.
Some critics have claimed that Slim valued quantity over quality when amassing his collection. In Mexican art circles, it is said, perhaps apocryphally, that he has calculated the average cost per kilogram of Rodin’s works.
The new building of the museum is a 46-metre tall, six-storey construction that is covered by 16,000 hexagonal aluminium tiles. Each of the six floors of the museum is distinctly shaped and the weight of the building is upheld by an exoskeleton of 28 curved steel vertical columns and seven beams encircling the structure.
In 2011 the main collection of the museum was moved to a new 16,000-square-metre building, constructed in the northern part of Mexico City. The museum has a narrow entrance that opens into a large white gallery. The top floor of the building is opened so that it is illuminated by sunlight in the daytime. In addition to the art galleries, the new building contains a library, restaurant, and an auditorium that seats 350 people. Each of the six floors of the museum is distinctly shaped and the roof is kept stable through its suspension from a cantilever. The floors are made of high quality marble that was imported from Greece.