â Address: Diego Rivera 2 / cnr Av Altavista / San Ãngel / Mexico â
Another day, another Frida and Diego museum to visit. That's certainly what it feels like here, anyway. Just as you can wander the streets of Vienna and find numerous plaques proclaiming "Beethoven lived here", here you can meander through the suburbs to the south of the city and it won't be long before you come across a place where Frida or Diego or both lived at some point.
The Museo Estudio Diego Rivera is located in Altavista, close to San Angel (the Mexican equivalent of Paris' Left Bank, as unlikely as that sounds). It is slightly off the beaten track as far as most tourists are concerned, and is nowhere near as much visited as the Casa Azul, Frida Kahlo's blue house over in Coyoacan. However, it is maybe worth a trip in its own right.
One of the most striking things about this museum is the building - it is housed in two tall buildings connected by a roof-level bridge, and is surrounded by a cactus hedge that looks like a prickly version of a white picket fence. It is, to all intents and purposes, just another house on the street, not set back from the road at all. The architecture would attract you, however, even if you weren't aware of the history of its former residents, because it is an odd shape which, though hard to believe, was very futuristic for its time. It was designed in the early 1930s by an architect friend of the couple, built deliberately so each artist could have their own house. This was perhaps not the best idea. They lived here together for 5 years, until he slept with her sister, prompting her to move back to her Casa Azul and file for divorce. They eventually remarried, but did not move back into this house, choosing to live in the roomier and more homely Casa Azul instead. Indeed, if you've previously visited the blue house, the first thing you notice at this museum is that in contrast there is no real homely feel to the building, perhaps because it was always treated more like two studios than a marital home.
As you enter, the first stop of your tour is Diego's part of the house, the white building. This includes his studio and some of the rooms he lived in, displayed pretty much as they were 70 years ago, and a gallery space in his old living room. Diego painted the vast majority of his pieces - some 3000 in total - here. Parts of the museum still have a lived in feel to them - his jacket is flung over a chair, his shoes neatly paired in the corner. There are paintings resting on easels, as if their creator might pop back at any time to finish them. Entry is via a spiral staircase but unfortunately the bridge is not open to visitors so you have to exit the house and walk underneath to get to the other part.
Frida's house (the blue building to the right - she clearly like living in blue houses, this woman) is home to various changing exhibits from their vast archives. There have been 250 different expositions here since it opened over 20 years ago. This part of the house does not include the same indications of its former domiciliary past as Diego's does, but then there are only so many full bathrooms you need to see in any museum. (And on this note - why does a 70 year old house get a nice white bathroom suite, but in my newly refurbished apartment in the city, I am treated to a 'stunning' Jade green one?). In fact, I felt a bit weird in Diego's bit, because it's much more house than museum and I felt like we were trespassing as we walked into his bedroom and peeked into the bathroom.
The small permanent collection in the museum is made up of paintings by Diego and Frida - something that does not always go without saying if you've read the review I wrote just before this one - and some of their contemporaries. In addition, there are several papier-mÃ¢che skeletons (a favourite of Diego's), sculptures and various ceramics. When we went there were also some interactive exhibits for children to play with that we also had a go at. One was a wall-mounted etch-a-sketch, another a magnetised version of a landscape hanging on the wall next to it that you had to try to reassemble.
This is a quirky museum. The whole two-houses thing is intriguing and always makes me think of siblings sharing a bedroom and choosing to separate it with a big piece of tape down the middle. However it is absolutely tiny, and took us less than half an hour. We weren't paying since we have teaching IDs, and entrance is cheap anyway, but don't come here thinking you'll have a full afternoon of art to enjoy.
The museum has little in way of services, just a small postcard "shop" attached to the reception desk. There is no cafe, but there is a Starbucks next door, and the restaurants of San Angel are only 10 minutes walk away.
I don't think it's worth making a huge effort to visit this place and if you're only in town for a few days there are much more interesting and important things to see, but if you're stranded here for a year, most places in the guide book get a visit, and this one is maybe worth a peek when you've nothing else to do one day.
Address: Diego Rivera 2 corner with Altavista, San Ãngel Inn
Open: Tuesday - Sunday, 10am - 6pm.
Entrance fee: 10 pesos (50p), though students and teachers go free.