El Museo Frida Kahlo / La Casa Azul

One of the most visited museums in DF (and one outside of both the Bosque de Chapultepec and El Centro), friends visiting often ask me: Is the Casa Azul worth the hype? My answer: it depends what you are expecting. La Casa Azul is where Frida grew up and lived for many years with Diego Rivera and eventually died, but it doesn’t feature much of her actual art work. If you are hoping to learn about Frida’s life story and about sources of inspiration for her iconic pieces, the museum will certainly be of interest.

If you’ve seen either the film starring Salma Hayek (which was partially filmed on location in Casa Azul) or the recent exhibit at the New York Botanical Gardens, attempting to bring elements of Casa Azul to New York, then seeing the original setting can be captivating. It is remarkable that the place where Frida spent most of her life is now open to the public, permitting visitors to get up close to objects as intimate as her death mask and to admire the contraption she designed on her bed (fixing a mirror to a post above her) so that she could paint self-portraits while bedridden.

The museum is designed to progressively show and tell Frida’s life story, and the audioguide nicely complements this storytelling aspect of the museum. The first room introduces her parents and their diverse backgrounds (her father was Hungarian and her mother hailed from Oaxaca, Mexico) as well as the circumstances of her childhood as a sickly kid, contracting polio at age six. This room features several original paintings, admittedly minor works and many portraits, like an unfinished portrait of her family tree and my favorite of the museum: Retrato de Guillermo Kahlo (1952), picturing her father as a dignified artist, posing in front of his camera. Painted ten years after her father died, it reflects her deep admiration for him, and the caption at the bottom of the work further expresses her respect for his determination despite his suffering from epilepsy. The first room also features a still-life of a fruit arrangement that may look quaint at first glance, but a segment on the audioguide pushes viewers to look further; it details the erotic undertones and commentary on fertility and sexuality (one interesting tidbit from the audioguide is that Frida had the frame specially commissioned to resemble a womb and designed the painting after requesting the frame, and that the subject matter turned off the patron who requested the piece to the extent that Frida was never paid for the painting).

Visitors continue to several more galleries where key themes of her art work (pain, belonging, gender, frustration with her infertility, and her firm beliefs in Communism) and sources of inspiration (ex-votos are featured especially strongly) are elaborated. There is a room dedicated to Diego, displaying his 1956 painting La quebrada, and a section on Leon Trotsky and Frida’s affair with the political refugee. Another room exhibits photographs of Frida and her artist intellectual milieu. Large kitchen and eating rooms are filled with brightly colored pots, pans, and traditional Mexican folk crafts. Many rooms feature Judas figures composed of cartonería or papier-mache, traditionally built during the weeks leading up to Easter and then burned; both Frida and Diego collected large Judas figures and many are on display at Casa Azul and Diego’s Casa-Estudio in San Angel. The dining room features several Judas figures and is connected to a simple bedroom designated as where Diego stayed when he lived as Casa Azul.

Eventually, visitors proceed up a staircase and arrive to the rooms that feel most like what you would expect from a house-museum: there is Frida’s library-studio, featuring a massive desk littered with tubes of paint, brushes, and other artistic implements, an easel in front of a wheelchair (suggestive of Frida’s extended periods of time living handicapped and painting nonetheless), and bookshelves lining the walls; and next are her day and night bedrooms containing Frida’s beds, death mask, and ashes (in an urn shaped like a toad, a reference to Diego who Frida called her toad).  From here, visitors descend a staircase and are immersed in Frida’s garden featuring pre-Hispanic artifacts. The lush greenery is complemented by a large red and yellow stepped pyramid in the center of the courtyard, which displays pre-Hispanic stone sculptures on each of the steps.

Through the garden, visitors can also explore a temporary exhibition hall. This designation as “temporary” is slightly misleading, since as far as I can tell, the exhibit “Appearances Can Be Deceiving: The Dresses of Frida Kahlo” has been ongoing since 2012. When Casa Azul was first opened to the public, Diego Rivera left instructions that some rooms were to remain closed until an appropriate date. In 2004, when these rooms were first explored, many new objects were discovered including sketches but also many dresses of the Tehuana style that Frida wore. “Appearances Can Be Deceiving” is a well-curated little show (5 small rooms) that discusses Frida’s influence on the fashion world and how she appropriated elements of Tehuana style and infused aspects of East Asian designs she found appealing. The first room focuses on special corsets and other garments she had designed to provide physical support in periods of physical distress. Thorough exhibit labels explain how her fashion choices were grounded in both the history of the Tehuana matriarchal society and the fact that the Tehuana garments of the boxy blouses and flowing skirts concealed her physical abnormalities (one leg being shorter than the other and her weakness of the trunk which was supported by corsets).

Additional Info to Plan a Visit

The museum nearly always has a line outside, but it is still best to avoid weekend crowds and mid-afternoon when busses carting tourists descend on the house.

The audioguide is really well done and greatly enhances the experience of viewing the artwork in the museum as well as the objects. The audioguide has plenty of interactive options to learn more about specific themes or objects and even includes a portion dedicated to the archive at Casa Azul, featuring photos and documents not on display in the museum.

The quaint gift shop contains lots of Frida memorabilia, a perfect place to buy some postcards of Frida’s more iconic paintings or some other trinket bearing Frida’s likeness. There is also a small cafe in the side of the garden nearest to the temporary exhibition hall where you can refuel with a coffee or quick snack.

The bohemian neighborhood of Coyoacan is also worth a visit. After or before your visit to the museum, stroll through the center of Coyocan, stopping to scope out the cathedral in the center, Fuente de los Coyotes, and the mercado. Home to many intellectuals in the early to mid 20th century (Octavio Paz lived here, for example), the homes have an older vibe and there are also other museums, like the Leon Trotsky house.

When it comes to the name of this museum, most will recognize it by either El Museo Frida Kahlo or La Casa Azul, but some cab drivers know it as El Museo Frida Kahlo and might confuse La Casa Azul with one of the Azul restaurants. Also in Google Maps, it is called El Museo Frida Kahlo (or the Frida Kahlo Museum in English).

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