The Frida Kahlo Museum and the house that she grew up in, the house she was nursed back to health in after her tragic accident, the house she learned to paint in. This was her family home, which after one of her break ups with Diego Rivera, she moved back to. She painted it blue. She and Diego later brought the Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky and his wife here to live. She spent her last days and died here. (slideshow at the bottom of this post)
I was truly stunned by the size of the grounds, as well as the design of the structures which skirted the outer perimeter near the street, different than I had imagined. I was equally surprised at how many preconceived ideas about Frida Kahlo’s life I had adopted which this visit dispelled by just being in the presence of the real thing. This always happens to me with art galleries anyway. For example Goya’s dark series, which are housed at the Prado in Madrid, you can’t imagine what these paintings really are through photographs of them. You think you can, but when you stand right in front of them, they convey emotion, compassion, anger and the power of their story and they become real. You have to spend time with the emotion they create inside you afterwards.
The same happens here. There is a main house where she grew up. You enter and the museum begins in these simple, quiet, thick walled rooms. They are filled with paintings, unfinished works and drawings by Frida and Diego. Her studio, which was built in 1946 is grey stone with large walls of paned windows, reminiscent of a Frank Lloyd Wright building, looking out into the expansive garden, through the tree tops.
As you follow along (and not in this order) you pass through the living room, Diego’s bed room – complete with a rifle on the bed, the bright yellow, incredibly charming and homey kitchen. There are rooms of memorabilia, letters, documents and drawings, folk art and clothing. Then there is her studio with large tables and desks that hold trays of old india ink bottles, mashed tubes of oil paints, brushes that hang on the back of the easel, books on art and painting, small iconic and pre-hispanic figures and toys. Her easel is on wheels, her wheel chair set in front of it and her Tehuana embroidered clothing draped over chairs. On the opposite wall there is a glass enclosed book case that spans a long wall, filled with books on Mexican history, art, prehispanic culture, poetry, Marxism, and a large collection of books in English. You are not allowed to take photographs inside, and are closely followed by a combination of guards in uniform and young men and women that look like visitors but are closely watching you.
You end up in a small alcove between her studio and her bedroom where her day bed is wedged, the famous single four poster bed that has a mirror suspended above it, where she painted self portraits and from which hangs small paper mache figures and little dolls. At this point, you have seen a good sense of a life which has been carefully catalogued, photographed, written about and lived.
Across the courtyard you pass through a large opening into another garden and more buildings which house an archive of photographs. You pass through a room with photographs of her mother’s and father’s families, her grandparents, then her own family, then a series of self portraits of her father (a photographer) posing in an intimate series of photographs including a nude of himself and as an old man, a picture that makes you think you would have liked this man. The culmination of it all for me however, was the x-ray of Frida’s spine, in which you can see the large metal plate fused in three places to her bones and you have to look away, it is so painful an image. This, along with seeing the paintings, the drawings, the unfinished pieces, which are my favorites, was touching and the perfect antidote to the cult-like trivialization, however well meaning and powerful, that has formed around her life
There’s more on the town of Coyoacan, the famous Bazaar Sabado in San Angel, two great restaurants, one good and one bad hotel and a slideshow of photos from one of those great big Mexican bakeries in the next post.
Click on the photo of Diego to view the slideshow.