This is hands-down my favorite museum in the city both because of its fabulous permanent collection (featuring many works by Frida and Diego) but also because visiting is such an immersive experience. While many tourists lament the location far from the city center and many don’t even make it down to Xochimilco to visit Museo Dolores Olmedo, I have come to appreciate that the museum is removed from the chaos of El Centro. The long drive down serves as a time for me to brush off the rushed pace of downtown and prepare to take my time with the artwork. The merits of the collection alone should also compel visitors to make the trek south, and the Google Cultural Institute’s project on the museum features many of the key works, broadening accessibility, albeit through a digital supplement (ideally not an alternative) to in-person gallery browsing.
The collection is housed in Dolores Olmedo Patiño’s personal estate called Hacienda La Noria, originally built in the 16th century). The stone-walled property features ample gallery space for permanent exhibits as well as temporary shows and also includes lovely gardens. Before entering the installation spaces, visitors pass through the gardens designed to specially showcase typical Mexican plants. Visitors then encounter the colorful peacocks that wander the premises and watch hairless dogs–the Precolumbian breed named Xoloiztcuintle–bound through fields of lush grass. The environment–precisely because it is removed from the qualities of urbanity that dominate most experiences in Mexico City–transports visitors. It is easy to imagine the elegant businesswoman, philanthropist, and art patron Dolores Olmedo Patiño (1908-2002) in this space. And the aesthetically pleasing grounds neatly complement and prepare viewers to appreciate Olmedo’s impressive art collection, open to the public since 1994.
Much of how Olmedo acquired such famous works can be understood through Olmedo’s deep friendship with Diego Rivera. In fact, one of the most famous images of Olmedo is the portrait Rivera painted of her in typical Tehuana dress, and the work appropriately hangs in the galleries of Rivera’s work at Olmedo’s museum (Retrato de Dolores Olmedo, 1955). The galleries in the buildings closest to the entrance feature woodcut prints and book illustrations by one of Rivera’s early lovers, Angelina Beloff. Eventually visitors proceed to a building focused on Rivera’s works, beginning with his cubist phase, continuing with displays of sketches and canvases for Rivera’s MoMA show in 1931-1932, and also featuring many of Rivera’s later works (including portraits, a nicely displayed series of smaller canvases picturing sunrise and sunset, and Rivera’s works completed in his last years in Russia).
The collection boasts over 145 Rivera works and 25 pieces by Frida Kahlo, but don’t let the less impressive number of Frida’s works disappoint you; many of the 25 paintings are Frida’s most well-known, including Hospital Henry Ford (1932), Unos cuantos piquetitos (1935), Mi nana y yo (1937), and La columna rota (1944). Since my first visit in 2013, I have been pleased see innovations in the gallery space displaying the Frida paintings, and portions of the gallery are now painted in bold colors to make Frida’s smaller-scale canvases pop.
Besides these classic paintings, the museum contains many pre-Hispanic objects (some of which are interspersed in the galleries with Rivera’s painting since Rivera drew substantial inspiration from such artifacts) as well as examples of popular and craft arts. More recently, some of Olmedo’s “personal rooms” were opened to the public, displaying decorative objects such as some made of ivory and china.
Additionally, the museum hosts cultural activities, such as a large festival on the weekend of Día de los Muertos featuring a massive altar with a portion dedicated to Dolores Olmedo and her mother as well as performances and artisan vendors. The festival also includes a contest for the best catrinas with women and girls of all ages dressing up as the iconic skeleton woman, la calavera catrina.
Additional Info to Plan a Visit
The audioguide for the museum is inexpensive and well done. I used it the first time I visited, and I still remember particular phrases and associate them with the respective works each time I see reproductions of the paintings.
As mentioned, the museum is pretty far from downtown Mexico City. The first time I visited, I took public transportation (the underground subway and then the extension, el tren ligero) but it involved changing lines several times and took over an hour from my neighborhood in the center of the city. Ever since, I have taken a cab down (usually takes around 45 minutes from downtown, if traffic is not too bad).
Perhaps because it is so far from downtown, the museum is hardly ever crowded, which makes for calm browsing. Do note, though, that the special events can draw large crowded (at the Día de los Muertos festival I waited over an hour in line to see the 2-room altar).
Open Tues-Sunday 10am-6pm. Free on Tuesdays.