In Paris, the Musée d’Orsay is housed in an old railway station; in London, Tate Modern has taken up residence in the old Bankside power station; and in Barcelona, some of Antoni Gaudi’s distinctive work is housed in some even more distinctive buildings. However, in Cancun, Mexico, they’ve housed a museum in an even more unusual setting – under the sea.
People have preconceptions of what they will find under water: fish, coral, rocks, maybe the occasional shipwreck. The waters off Cancun, however, have some of these plus some far more surprising sights – all thanks to the Cancun Underwater Museum.
Started in 2009, there are now more than 450 pieces of art underneath the water in 150 square metres off the coast of Cancun, a destination ever-popular among holidaymakers seeking bargain holidays and cheap all inclusive deals. It’s the brainchild of English artist Jason deCaires Taylor. He graduated from the London Institute of Arts in 1998 and has always been a keen diver and underwater photography. In 2006, he set up the world’s first underwater sculpture park off the coast of Grenada in the West Indies but he’s decided to go even bigger and better in Mexico, where he is currently based.
MUSA (Museo Subaquatico de Arte) features mainly human-like sculptures in a variety of situations – from sitting on a VW Beetle to watching the television. With names such as Banker, Dream Collector, Inertia and Man on Fire, these constitute a fascinating body of work that would look great in any gallery on dry land but work even better in their unusual setting.
A stunning attraction in its own right, there is also a strong environmentally-friendly side to the creation of MUSA. For a start, all the sculptures are made from pH-neutral clay that encourages the growth of coral and other marine life, which not only makes the art a constantly evolving, living body work but also sustains the very life forms that make these waters a mecca for divers and snorkelers.
Secondly, situated not far from the famous Manchones reef, the growing popularity of MUSA means that less strain is put on Manchones, which is used to welcoming more than three quarters of a million divers every year. If the museum can draw just a small percentage of these divers away from the hugely popular dive areas then it will boost the sustainability of the nearby reefs and all that rely on them for survival.
If all this sounds great but the thought of submerging yourself is not something you want to entertain, then one of the best things about MUSA is that it’s accessible to all, even if you’re not into diving. The artwork can be viewed while diving, snorkelling and also by taking a glass-bottomed tour. If you do want to dive it, there are local guides who can show you round – just remember that there’s no touching allowed!
About the Author: Carter Davis is a freelance travel writer and art enthusiast who spends a lot of time exploring the Americas.