The intense colors and geometric exuberance of the home/studio that once belonged to Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, two cultural icons of the art of the 20th century, stands in marked contrast to the rest of the homes in Mexico City’s posh San Angel neighborhood.
Currently a museum and educational space, Diego and Frida’s former home/studio was the first building of the modern movement in the Americas. Its creator, the architect Juan O’Gorman (a close friend of Rivera’s), accepted the commission to build a studio, which could also serve as the couple’s residence. He divided the structure into two distinct blocks, one for Diego and one for his wife Frida.
Revolutionary for its time and influenced by the avant-garde concepts and theories of Le Corbusier, O’Gorman‘s “extravagant” design was the source of sound controversy in the 1930s. His break with traditional patterns of Mexican architecture was marked by the introduction of post-war functionalism.
With the paradigm of investing the smallest amount of money and labor, the building was envisioned with practical spaces for the couple’s preferences and using the kind of building materials that would later become the trademark of modern architecture. The exposed concrete, electricity and plumbing were part of O’Gorman’s functionalist proposal. The artists’ studios were outfitted with large floor to ceiling windows to allow the natural light to filter in.
The red building was intended for Diego: the powerful muralist, creator of robust figures and monumental pieces. The blue block was for Frida: the author of stunning paintings full of sorrow. The bridge that connects the two structures was the symbolic link of their symbiotic relationship.
The couple moved into the house in 1934 after returning from a stay in the United States. Frida created, in this new environment, unforgettable paintings such as The Two Fridas, The Watchful Eye and What Water Gave Me, among other works that consolidated her career. The house also witnessed the courageous suffering she endured from her painful illness. “Why should I need feet, if I have wings to fly?” That was the legacy Frida left for future generations with her art.
Diego, meanwhile, painted, in this house, most of his easel work, which includes more than 3,000 items. The house also held his famous skull collection, some of which are still preserved in his old studio, and an important group of pre-Columbian art and Mexican crafts.
Both Frida and Diego lived in the house until their deaths, which occurred in 1954 and 1957 respectively. Every corner, piece of furniture, and the works that remain in the house shows, as in a whisper, the essence of the stormy relationship and the creative power of these two geniuses.
The Museo Casa Estudio Diego Rivera y Frida Kahlo houses a permanent exhibition of artworks, furniture and personal items from both artists. It is also the setting for various cultural activities, such as workshops, lectures, children’s activities, temporary exhibitions, video projections and “outdoor cinema” in the courtyard. Currently on view, Monumental Glory and Epic, a retrospective of the work of Mexican sculptor Ernesto Tamariz.
“Laughing happily she took my hand and led me through the house— which seemed to be empty— into her room. She paraded before me all her paintings. Her works, her room and her sparkling presence filled me with wonderful joy. I did not know then, but Frida had already become the most important part of my life.”
Diego Rivera. ■