Mexican artist Frida Kahlo // © 2016 Nickolas Muray
Feature image (above): Museo de Frida Kahlo, otherwise known as The Blue House, is located just outside Mexico City. // © 2016 Betsabee Romero
"There have been two great accidents in my life. One was the train, the other was Diego. Diego was by far the worst.” — Frida Kahlo
Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera are arguably not only the most revered painters in Mexico’s history, but also the country’s most famous lovers. Some people describe them as the Romeo and Juliet of Mexican art, but the two lovers they more closely resemble are Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor — coming together with passion, and then just as passionately splitting apart, again and again.
This in itself wouldn’t be of much interest, were it not for the art they created, mostly while in Mexico City, spanning the decades of the 1920 to the 1950s — hers intensely hermetic and personal, and his taking on expansive world issues and historic themes. Together, their art is even more compelling, as it is so opposite in intent. Going from one to another is like hitting the refresh button over and over again.
One of the easiest ways to get up to speed on the Kahlo and Rivera story is to watch the 2002 film “Frida” that stars Salma Hayek. It’s a stylish and dramatic overview of the events of the artists’ shared life.
Art lovers touching down in Mexico City could build a whole visit based on visiting sites associate with the two artists. We’ve compiled a brief overview for those interested in following in the footsteps of Kahlo and Rivera.
Many of the sites in the city are devoted to one artist or the other. A good place to start is Museo Casa Estudio Diego Rivera y Frida Kahlo, since it focuses on the former homes of the two artists, where they lived from 1934 to 1940 — a period during which they divorced and remarried each other. The museum is actually two buildings joined by a passage, with ample displays of artwork, personal items and furnishings, providing an intimate look at the two.
Museo Frida Kahlo — also known as The Blue House — located just outside Mexico City in the suburb Coyoacan, is a site of pilgrimage for many art lovers. This popular attraction was Kahlo’s childhood home, a place where she and Rivera lived together and where Marxist revolutionary Leon Trotsky stayed when he fled Russia in 1937. Here, visitors can view a collection of Kahlo’s artwork and her personal items, such as her doll collection, as well as soak in the intimate ambiance of the artist’s life. The house is also where Kahlo lived out her final days.
Rivera, meanwhile, gained fame for his stunning murals and is considered the father of Mexico’s mural movement. Antiguo Colegio de San Ildefonso (San Ildefonso College), located in in Mexico City’s historic district, displays his first mural, “La Creacion,” a representation of the mingled powers of science and art.
For a comprehensive overview of the iconography of Rivera’s art, send clients to Secretaria de Educacion Publica, a government office just a few blocks north of the main “zocalo” (city square), which has 120 frescoes by the artist on display. The panels lay out the story of Mexico’s indigenous peoples and working class. In these frescoes, the greedy capitalists get the artistic needle from Riviera. Inform clients to search out the details of one particular mural, which shows a very young Kahlo represented as a proud revolutionary.
Also not to be missed is the series of murals by Rivera on display at Palacio Nacional, located on the east side of the zocalo. These depict the 2,000-year struggle of the Mexican people. Rivera was a fervent Marxist, and there are often elements of Marxist iconography in his art.
Palacio de Bellas Artes houses outstanding murals by Rivera and his contemporary David Alfaro Siqueiros. The building itself is a stunning example of art deco architecture and is popular as a site for regularly scheduled performances by Ballet Folklorico de Mexico.
Die-hard Kahlo and Rivera fans can make the trek to Xochimilco, the canal district that lies about 15 miles outside Mexico’s City’s center. Here, they’ll find Museo Dolores Olmeda. The 16th-century hacienda estate displays works by both Kahlo and Rivera. (Dolores Olmeda Patino was one of Rivera’s many lovers.)
One of the most charming paintings Rivera created is “Sueno de una Tarde Dominical en la Alameda Central” (Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in the Alameda Central). In this painting, his Marxist passions receive a more relaxed treatment. Among the many historic figures depicted are Rivera as a chubby young boy holding a hands with La Calavera Catrina, Mexico’s iconic figure of death, as well as a severe-looking Kahlo standing behind him. The mural was originally on display in Hotel Prado and is now housed in its own small museum near Alameda Park.
If clients are even interested in dining the way Kahlo and Rivera did, Mexico City offers some of the artists’ favorites, such as “pan dulce” — which are Mexican pastries of all stripes — and “atole,” a corn-based beverage similar to hot chocolate.