Frida Kahlo with a monkey on one shoulder, a black cat on the other, and lush jungle-like vegetation in the background. It was that painting by the artist that first captivated me and motivated me to travel to Mexico. Yes, it was a painting that inspired a trip halfway across the world.
Where to Find Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera in Mexico City
Strolls through the studios and homes of the Mexican artist Frida Kahlo and her more famous (at the time) artist husband, the muralist Diego Rivera, followed. Along with visits to the house of Leon Trotsky (with whom Frida Kahlo had an affair) and as many of Diego Rivera’s colossal murals as we could see in a few days.
I returned to Australia from that trip with a backpack crammed with prints of Frida’s paintings and all sorts of handicrafts of the kind she had herself collected, from Day of the Dead dioramas with miniature skeletal figures to wooden crosses covered with milagros.
Strewn with vibrant striped serapes and woven textiles, our Sydney apartment would come to resemble some kind of Museum to Mexican Folk Art. I read every biography on Frida Kahlo and her tragic life and great love, Diego Rivera that I could get my hands on. The Hayden Herrera book was my favourite. And I amassed a collection of books on their work, and that of their contemporaries like Tina Modotti and Edward Weston.
So on this trip I was eager to do another round of visits to the studios and homes of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. Knowing more now than I did then, I wanted to see how I might be affected, whether I’d be touched in the same way. What I hadn’t taken into account was the success of Salma Hayek’s film Frida in those intervening years and the fact that every other visitor to Mexico City seemed to be making the same pilgrimage.
Sadly, gone was the intimacy of the empty, laid-back museum that we first visited where photography was once permitted. Now, teeming with tourists, it was difficult to take time to enjoy each room and impossible to soak up any atmosphere. Frida’s rooms seem a little more sparse and sterile, as if everything has been packed away for the visitors, and the tranquil garden boasts a busy gift shop and café.
Was I disappointed? A little. But regardless, the museums to Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera still warrant a visit if you’re a lover of the work and the grand love story of Frida and Diego.
Even if you know very little about Frida Kahlo — a complex, fiercely creative woman in physical pain all her life following a horrific accident as a teen; not to mention a long-suffering wife due to womanising Diego who continually flaunted his affairs in her face (she also had her fair share) — there’s still much to learn from their work, and places of work. And not only about the artists but about Mexican history, politics, society, and culture, and about Mexico at the time in which their works were made.
This cobalt-painted concrete space was Frida’s family home. She grew up here, died here, and retreated here during periods of separation from Diego. There’s a collection of some of her work in the first rooms, as well as photographs of her and her contemporaries in the main house. A highlight is the collection of recently released photos in a dedicated gallery at the back. While some of the rooms remain in the state they were when Frida was alive, they aren’t as cluttered with Frida’s paraphernalia as they once were.
Londres 247, Coyoacan
Two separate modernist houses joined by a walkway, built in 1931 by Mexican architect and artist Juan O’Gorman, were the homes and studios of Frida and Diego from 1934 to 1940, and again of Diego after Frida died in 1954. While Casa Azul is more a monument to Frida, this is really Diego’s museum, boasting many of his personal mementoes as well as some of his paintings.
Diego Rivera 2, San Ángel
If you only see one set of murals by Diego, make it these, pictured above, at the Palacio Nacional on the Zocalo, where myriad murals depicting Mexico’s two thousand years of history decorate the stairwell and walls. They’re called The Epic of the Mexican People in their Struggle for Freedom and Independence, and read together the monumental paintings comprise a history course in themselves.
The Zocalo; use side entrance on Calle Moneda
If you’re keen for another taste of Diego’s work and more of a social studies lesson, see Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in Alameda Park in the small museum opposite the park.
Balderas and Colón
This museum in the sprawling hacienda that belonged to Diego’s former mistress, the art patron Dolores Olmedo Patiño, holds one of the most significant collections of Frida and Diego’s work in Mexico, along with other treasures, including colonial art and folk art.
México 5843, Xochimilco (free on Tuesdays)
Where To See Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera’s Art Outside Mexico
My favourite art gallery in Australia is showing Frida Kahlo and Diego from the Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection from 25 June to 9 October 2016. There’ll be 33 artworks from the collection, including Frida Kahlo’s self-portrait paintings and drawings, as well as examples of Diego Rivera’s canvas paintings (not his enormous murals obviously!). There will also be some 50 photographs by Edward Weston, Lola Alvarez Bravo and Frida’s father, Guillermo Kahlo, to provide additional insight into their world. I will be trying very hard to get down to Australia for this.
UPDATED: June 2016