Less Is More: The Small Art Museums of Mexico City

 Screen Shot 2015-11-01 at 5.48.31 PMby Carole Reedy

 A vast and varied selection of art museums awaits you in Mexico City, part of its larger cultural program for citizens and tourists alike. While it’s impossible to do justice to all in one article, here’s a jewel box of small treasures, favorites of people who live here and the places they take out-of-town visitors.

Museum of Modern Art (Museo de Arte Moderno) is a pure delight and my personal favorite. The ambience is utterly calming, providing a pleasant few hours’ escape from the hustle and bustle of the big city. Located on Paseo de Reforma in Chapultepec Park, it’s easy to stop here during a busy day to view and reflect on some of the finest exhibitions anywhere. The museum houses Mexican 20th century art and displays marvelous temporary exhibits. The most recent exhibit, ‘In Wonderland, Women Surrealists in Mexico and the United States,’ is one I have viewed three times and am planning my fourth visit.

One of the principal features of the museum is a large, lovely garden. Sit on a stone bench among the trees and grass to view sculpture as well as the Monument to the Niños Heroes. There’s also a small cafeteria and bookstore to enjoy.

Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera

The works of the most talked-about couple in Mexico are represented in several small art museums throughout the city:

 Frida’s Blue House + the Trosky Museum and Home

Located in the colonia Coyoacan, this has to be one of the most popular museums in the city. A stop here is included in the southern route Turibus Tour of the city. Frida Kahlo was born here and died here as well, the place she painted many of her famous works, inspired by the constant back pain she endured as a result of an accident in her younger years. Diego Rivera lived here with her too. Not only are many of her paintings displayed, but there is also a room with her paint supplies and instruments, her personal book collection, letters and diaries, her bed and back injury apparatus, a typical Mexican kitchen, and a huge garden. Relax in it before taking off to central Coyoacan for lunch or a visit to the nearby Trotsky museum.

Leon Trotsky lived with Frida and Diego during his exile in Mexico. Just a few blocks from the Blue House you’ll find the Trotsky Museum and Home, where he lived after leaving their hospitable Blue House. It’s chockfull of history and Trotsky’s personal items. Bullet holes from Trotsky’s attempted assassination are embedded in the walls of his bedroom. (He escaped death that time, but a later attempt proved successful.)

 Museo Estudio Diego Rivera

Many couples feel this is the ideal living situation: separate homes joined by a roof-top bridge. This is how Frida and Diego lived in San Angel, the colonia just a short distance from Frida’s Blue House in neighboring Coyoacan. It’s such fun to roam their spaces, viewing personal effects, collections, and the magnificent paintings of these artists.

If you’re planning to tour in this area, make it a point to stop for lunch across the street at the elegant San Angel Inn, a former 17th-century Carmelite monastery. And don’t be surprised if you glimpse some famous people while enjoying your meal.

 Museo Dolores Olmeda Patiño

Travel to the south of the city to visit this treasure, located in Xochimilco, and consider combining it with a visit to the Floating Gardens of Xochimilco. Take the metro to Taxqueña station and then transfer to the Tren Ligera.

This is more than an art museum. The 17th-century mansion was home to Dolores Olmeda, noted Mexican philanthropist and art collector. Here you’ll find the largest collection of paintings of Diego Rivera, works by Frida, and pre-Columbian artifacts. Since Ms. Olmeda’s death in 2002 at age 93, you can also visit her unique grand home and gardens filled with native plants and animals.

Museo Mural Diego Rivera

A visit to Mexico City must include a stroll in Alameda, the park next to the Bellas Artes. Here you’ll find many vendors selling traditional dress from Oaxaca and Chiapas, DVDs, jewelry, watches, belts, baseball caps, binoculars, and many other fun little souvenir-type items.

You’ll also see muralist Diego Rivera’s masterpiece, “Dreams of a Sunday Afternoon on the Alameda Central.” A small two-story gallery is built around this famous painting that’s divided into three sections: the Conquest of Mexico to mid-19th century, turn of the century, and the Mexican Revolution and post Revolution. It’s fun to discover significant historical characters in the painting, including several of Diego himself.

Across from Alameda, you will find…

Museo Franz Meyer

The courtyard in this museum is among the most beautiful rest stops in the city. A former hospital in a 16th-century building, the Museo Franz Meyer houses one of the most varied collections from Mexico, the Far East, and Europe you’ll find in the city. There are also many temporary exhibitions, so be sure to check the weekly magazine Tiempo Libre to discover what will be displayed during your visit.

 Some Special Museum News

  • Both the Munal (Museo Nacional de Arte) and Museo Jose Luis Cuervas, located in central off the Zocalo, host free classical music concerts in their foyers on Saturday and Sunday afternoons at 1 pm. Check Tiempo Libre for specifics. The Christmas programs are especially festive.
  • After being closed for renovations for a year, on August 26, 2012, Museo Rufino Tamayo, located in Chapultepec Park, reopened its doors. With the remodeling, the museum grew by 30 percent. There’s now a special area to project videos, a gourmet restaurant, a bookstore, and new areas for paintings. Although rarely has the museum shown works of the Oaxacan painter Tamayo, it’s currently presenting 47 works created at the end of his life, entitled

Carole Reedy lives in Mexico City where she frequents its art museums weekly.   Contact her at carolina_reedy@yahoo.com with any questions or comments.