Visiting Frida Kahlo: Not (Just) a Love Story

In the Garden of Casa Azul

One of the things that everyone said I must do when I arrived in Mexico City was visit Casa Azul, the home of the artist Frida Kahlo, now transformed into a remarkable museum.

It was advice I was happy to take, because although I actually didn’t see the 2002 biopic Frida, starring Salma Hayek, I’ve been interested in Kahlo ever since her knotted eyebrowed self portraits showed up in my early social studies classes in high school.

Besides, it’s hard to visit Mexico without getting interested in murals, the muralists that made them, and the world they inhabited in the 1930s and 40s, whether its Jose Clemente Orozco in Guadalajara, David Alfaro Siqueiros in San Miguel de Allende, or Diego Rivera in Mexico City. While Kahlo wasn’t a muralist, but she was married and deeply enmeshed with Rivera, had an affair with Leon Trotsky (who was almost killed in an assassination plot that included Siqueiros) and is indisputably a part of the woof and weft of the era.

Sculpture in Diego Rivera's Bedroom

After checking out the murals in the historic district including at Antiguo Convento San Idelfonso and the Palacio de Bellas Artes, I headed a bit further a field to San Angel, and visited

Diego Rivera’s studio/home that he shared with Frida Kahlo for a time. The studio is packed with art objects that served as inspiration, as well as the tools of the trade, paint brushes and palettes. (And check out the bride and groom sculpture he kept within sight of his bed!)  Although Rivera died in 1957 there was still an undercurrent of artistic energy.

San Angel is not far from Casa Azul, which is in Coyoacán — where Frida Kahlo was born, and died, and where the two also lived for a time. It’s now fantastic museum, including a formal gallery of Frida’s works (with a few by Diego Rivera) and then her preserved living quarters, where you can observe the corsets that she decorated, the wheelchair pulled up to an easel in her studio, to a poster depicting the stages of pregnancy, to the art supplies next to her bed.

Frida Kahlo is quoted throughout the museum, on placards in the garden, and painted on the exhibit walls, in an approximation of her hand. Almost all of them were about Diego Rivera, their tormented relationship, her inability to control him, his work as an artist  — his drive, she said “breaks clocks and calendars.”

I have to say, all the “Diego, Diego, Diego” got on my nerves. I know that her relationship with Diego was a major theme in her art and in her life, and that everyone loves a love story, and particularly one as wracked with scandal as this one was – it would make any telenovela seem tame. But it seems to me that Kahlo was more than her relationship with Rivera, and I know that she had interesting things to say on other subjects.  I came to Casa Azul to be inspired by the presence of an artist and not to worship at the cathedral of twisted love.

I’m willing to concede that I’m being cantankerous here. So I’m going to revisit a few books on Kahlo and Rivera and see if my opinion changes. But I wonder if any one else has felt the same?

From Perceptive Travel webzine: Unbalanced in the Sinking City

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