Before you visit the Organization of American States' Art Museum of the Americas, stroll around back to check out the garden. This hidden gem only steps from the Mall features boxwood, azaleas and annuals, and a murky but charming pool ruled over by an imposing statue of the Aztec god of flowers, Xochipili. Water spouts from a stone frog's mouth into a pool at Xochipili's feet, creating a tranquil atmosphere.
The museum itself, which was founded in 1976, houses a solid collection of Latin American and Caribbean art -- from colonial to contemporary -- in diverse media. In addition, it holds regular exhibitions, educational programs and lectures examining the art and culture of OAS member countries. Most memorable of late was the Fernando Botero sculpture exhibit, which adorned Constitution Avenue with Botero's heavy, swollen figures of people and animals.
Although it has a permanent collection, the OAS museum often features temporary shows by contemporary Latin American and local artists, who can be from any OAS member country, including Canada and the United States. Free brochures relating to current exhibitions are usually available at the desk in the small entryway.
During temporary exhibitions, sculptures are often also scattered on the garden's grassy areas or hidden among the trees that muffle the sounds of traffic from Virginia and Constitution avenues. A walk back to the front of the museum reveals its beautiful architectural details. The building's Spanish colonial style features white walls, iron grilles and a striking red-tile roof. Designed by architects Albert Kelsey and Paul Cret and funded by philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, the structure was completed in 1912 and once served as the residence of OAS directors general and secretaries general.
The museum's interior suffers from a rough paint job and water-damaged areas; just ignore the musty smell. A must-see is the permanent loggia decorated with richly hued tiles in patterns inspired by Aztec and Inca legends. In this enclosed patio you can peer into the garden through windows and French doors. The calming blues and greens, the airy feel, the sense of being outdoors though you're still inside, make you pine for a bench on which to rest and contemplate the murmurings of the Americas' past.
-- Ana Acosta