Inside Escaped Mexican Drug Lord El Chapo’s Mansion—Is He an Art Collector?

Marines found a gaudy painting of a bucking bull in a safe house.


Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán Loera.
Photoa via Al Jazeera America.

It has been reported that among the holdings of Mexican drug lord Joaquin Guzmán Loera, aka El Chapo, is a multimillion-dollar art collection. When his villa in one of Mexico’s wealthiest neighborhoods was raided in 2014, Mexican authorities found a collection of guns and exotic animals, along with money stashed inside walls and closets.

The Sinaloa Cartel kingpin definitely has a taste for art, even if the subject matter is questionable. When marines broke into his safe house in Culiacan in 2014, they found, according to the New Yorker, “a gaudy oil painting of a bucking bull, stuck full of swords but still defiant, [hanging] on one wall.”


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A Twitter account that purports to be maintained by the kingpin’s son, Ivan Guzmán, features pictures of material wealth, including sports cars, wads of cash, and gold-plated firearms, as well as a 2013 shot of a man admiring a painting of a nude woman.Guzman-art

Guzmán is back in the news after tunneling out of his maximum security lockup via a tunnel in the shower stall, the one part of his cell that was not monitored by video. Incidentally, it’s been a great summer for prison breaks involving tunnels—two murderers escaped from a New York State prison recently, and one of them was an artist.

It’s the second time Guzmán has busted out of prison; he broke out in 2001. This time, he escaped via a mile-long tunnel that was more than five feet high, allowing him to talk upright to the tunnel’s end at a construction site in the neighborhood of Santa Juanita in Almoloya de Juárez, west of Mexico City.

In 2012, the New York Times reported that “Sinaloa has achieved a market share of at least 40 percent and perhaps as much as 60 percent, which means that Chapo Guzmán’s organization would appear to enjoy annual revenues of some $3 billion—comparable in terms of earnings to Netflix or, for that matter, to Facebook.”

So what might El Chapo’s collection consist of? It could include works like the ones seized from drug traffickers and sold at a Colombia warehouse auction in 2013, which included paintings by renowned Colombian artists Alejandro Obregón, David Manzur, and Luis Caballero. At that sale, an Obregón painting sold for $77,000. Notorious drug baron Pablo Escobar’s diamond-encrusted wristwatch sold for $70,000. Escobar was also known to have bizarre artworks. At this year’s London Art Fair, a gold-plated skull of a hippo from Escobar’s collection was on display at Pertwee Anderson & Gold, and was apparently attracting onlookers.

Guzmán is also known as a patron of architecture, having commissioned architect Felipe de Jesús Corona-Verbera to design his private zoo in Guadalajara, which houses tigers, crocodiles, and bears, the New Yorker reports. The architect has a gift for tunnels, and he designed one that went from a Guzmán residence to a cartel-owned warehouse in Arizona.

“The result delighted him,” says the New Yorker, with Guzmán reportedly exclaiming, “Corona made a fucking cool tunnel.”

Other Mexican drug lords have also shown an interest in the arts. Héctor Beltrán Leyva had passed himself off as an art dealer before being arrested in October 2014. Meanwhile, tighter restrictions on businesses, meant to prevent money laundering, have put a squeeze on art galleries and auction houses, which are now required to limit cash transactions and provide the authorities with more information about their customers.


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A work from the collection of notorious drug baron Pablo Escobar, which was on view and attracted onlookers at this year’s London Art Fair.
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