Name a more iconic duo.
So inextricably connected are the narratives of Mexican artists Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, they once both featured on Mexico’s 500-peso note (before being unceremoniously booted for Benito Juárez and a grey whale). In her lifetime, Kahlo was the unibrowed, frock-and-flower-wearing communist wife of Mexican Muralism extraordinaire Diego Rivera, known for having health problems stemming from a childhood illness and then, a teenage accident. Her work flew under-the-radar, while that of her husband graced damn near every building in Mexico City. Their relationship was tumultuous at best, yet they remain one of the most iconic pairings of their time. Here’s how best to explore their legacies in Mexico City.
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For an introduction to Frida’s Mexico City, there’s no better starting point than the sprawling southern neighborhood of Coyoacán. The artsy spirit of Kahlo, a nearly lifelong resident of the area, lives on in the very fabric of her old stomping ground, now known for its colorful walls, abundant street art, and popular churro shops. And at the beating heart of the barrio lie the Jardín Centenario and Plaza Hidalgo, where the casual Frida fan can happily while away the hours safe in the knowledge that the artist, in all likelihood, once frequented that very spot.
INSIDER TIPThere’s even a park dedicated to Kahlo in Coyoacán, situated just off Fernández Leal. Its name? Parque Frida Kahlo, of course.
Mercado de Coyoacán
To dig a little deeper into Frida’s Coyoacán legacy, you must make a quick pitstop at the Mercado de Coyoacán. It’s a well-documented and regularly-parroted fact that Frida was a frequent visitor to the market. (Although, it is worth pointing out that the original building she would have known and loved was redeveloped in the ’50s, after her death.) Regardless, the Coyoacán Market still attracts its fair share of Frida fans who come to browse (more or less) where she did and buy (more or less) the products that she may once have purchased.
Cantina La Guadalupana
A visit to Mexico City wouldn’t be complete without trying a tequila or two, and one of the best places to do so is surely an old-school cantina. Traditional to the nth degree, Cantina La Guadalupana also has the honor of being a former Kahlo-Rivera stomping ground, with the pair supposedly stopping by every once in a while.
La Casa Azul
Easily the most well-known of all the present-day Frida Kahlo hotspots in Coyoacán, La Casa Azul (a.k.a. the Blue House) is the place to which hardcore Frida fans should (and do) throng to get an insight into her life. After all, this museum is a well-preserved space, brimming with her possessions, which documents much of Kahlo’s later years. Sure, the Blue House is far from underrated—in fact, it’s much closer to the over-hyped end of the spectrum—but it’s still a must-visit for visitors hoping to steep themselves in a little Kahlo legend.
If Kahlo had the Blue House, Diego Rivera had the Museo Anahuacalli, an imposing, mildly Art Deco-inspired edifice made of volcanic rock situated just outside of Coyoacán. Nowadays, it’s a house-museum which most people end up visiting thanks to a two-for-one deal which provides access to the Blue House too. However, for those of you more interested in Rivera than Kahlo (there must be some), the Anahuacalli Museum makes for an excellent standalone destination, especially thanks to the stellar collection of pre-Columbian artwork—Rivera was a prolific collector—housed within.
Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo House-Studio
More colloquially known as the other Blue House, the Juan O’Gorman-designed Museo Casa-Estudio Diego Rivera y Frida Kahlo gives a rare insight into the couple’s day-to-day life as, well, a couple. Strikingly modern, the buildings—yes, plural; they each lived in separate buildings which were connected by a solitary gangway, so read into that what you will—are painted in bold block colors and feature multiple spiral staircases. Frida’s half now hosts rotating exhibitions, while Rivera’s is full of his paraphernalia and given its relatively out-of-the-way location in San Ángel, it’s one destination that often goes sadly overlooked by all but the couple’s most ardent fans.
Museo Dolores Olmedo
Xoloitzcuintles—a cute-yet-bizarre-looking Mexican dog breed thought to exist in the afterlife; think Dante from Coco—have free reign over the grounds of the Museo Dolores Olmedo in Mexico City. They’re far from the main attraction though. No, that honor goes to the numerous Frida Kahlo originals within. (Please note that at the time of writing they’re all on loan to the Hungarian National Gallery, Budapest.) There are also a few Rivera works on display there too.
INSIDER TIPDolores Olmedo acquired many of Kahlo’s paintings before she was a big name, although to see “The Two Fridas” you’ll need to stop by the Museo de Arte Moderno.
Museo Mural Diego Rivera
Rivera is by far and away known for his murals above all else, and many of his best pieces—such as Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in Alameda Central—can be found in the unassuming-from-the-outside Museo Mural Diego Rivera. If you study the massive fresco closely, you’ll surely spot Frida Kahlo, unibrow and all, tucked just behind Diego Rivera and to the left of a behatted calavera (skeleton).
Anyone with even a passing interest in the work of Diego Rivera knows that some of his most iconic pieces—like the famed, stairwell-dominating The History of Mexico—can be found in the Palacio Nacional, which sits just off the capital’s central Zocalo. Propaganda features heavily in many of these murals, as Rivera was one of the driving forces of a government-funded campaign which aimed to frame the Mexican Revolution in a positive light.
Secretaría de Educación Pública
After visiting the Palacio Nacional, few people think to stop by the Secretaría de Educación Pública, even though it’s just a stone’s throw away. Perhaps it’s because nothing sounds more uninspiring than a government office which lacks the word “Palace” in its name. However, stopping by the SEP on a Frida and Diego tour of Mexico City is highly recommended, because it houses some of Rivera’s most impressive and political frescoes—over 100 of them to be precise. And it’s free to enter.
Palacio de Bellas Artes
The Palacio de Bellas Artes, as well as being one of the Mexican capital’s most impressive buildings both inside and out, is also home to a ton of Rivera murals (he really got around). An obligatory stop for Rivera fans, who’ll delight over the chance to see his striking (and overtly communist) Man at the Crossroads piece, a visit to Bellas Artes is also a worthy addition to pretty much any and all Mexico City itineraries.
Antiguo Colegio de San Ildefonso
From a hugely popular Rivera destination to an underrated treat for fans of his early work and Mexican Muralism in general, make the Antiguo Colegio de San Ildefonso your final stop. Now a museum, it’s home to Rivera’s first massive mural, The Creation, as well as a plethora of other rotating exhibits.