mexico city guide: the art version
Note: I began drafting this post weeks before September's devastating earthquake, and held off sharing as I couldn't imagine speaking to a tourist's experience in the midst of such a tragic moment. However, as the city rebuilds, it feels appropriate to celebrate the incredible beauty of the city--and in particular, some of the art that has survived for decades, if not centuries.
Well, this is not quite the guide I envisioned writing post-Mexico City. Instead, I thought I'd be going on and on about the incredible powers of Contramar and its famous fish and tuna tostada, and oh that fig tart! Or waxing on about the perfect churro, or how delightful it is to sip mezcal with a sidcar of granita.
But alas: the travel gods sometimes choose to laugh. And so a sister trip months in the making quickly dissolved into a few hours of the planned trip... and then several days of saltines & water. Luckily, however, we were still able to drag ourselves around, only crying a little at each taco stand we passed, and Mexico City has an incredible amount to say. Like any large city, the following highlights are just that--first-timer highlights--and by no means all of it, but together they gave us a good sense of the history, color, and texture of the city. A good foundation for our triumphant return, soon to be booked.
History of Mexico Murals at Palacio Nacional: Diego Rivera was incredibly prolific but these extensive murals housed in the national headquarters, still working today, are arguably his most famous. Fight your way through the crowds in Zocalo Square (google maps was not particularly helpful -- when facing the building, go down the street to the left and you'll find a small entrance). I'd recommend bringing an ID other than your passport because you'll be forced to hand it over into a large pile before going through security and in. Once finally inside, you'll find a serene, beautiful courtyard with cacti and cats aplenty (if there was ever a definition for "oasis" this would be it). Eventually drag yourself though and find your way to the murals themselves. Spanning a full staircase and several long hallways, they were created between the late 1920s and 1940s and highlight Mexican history from the perspective of class struggle, running from ancient myths through Rivera's contemporaries. We used this site as a live guide to understand the meaning of each panel (and in many cases find the famous faces tucked within).
Museo Nacional de Antropologia: A fan favorite from everyone who knew who had been. Each room in this museum, found in lush Chapultepec Park, focuses on a different historical period or cultural community. Many of the pieces are quite incredible and a good counterpoint to other sites in the city; however, the most stunning elements might be the architecture. The building opens out into a beautiful courtyard centered around a striking "umbrella" or canopy, balanced on a single pillar, with water cascading down.
Palacio de Bellas Artes: A gorgeous art deco building that continues to host cultural events. Given the chance, I'd try to book tickets to a performance -- anything in this building would be an experience. Short of that, pay the fee and head upstairs to see incredible murals, including the second incarnation of version of Rivera's El Hombre Controlador del Universo, originally created for the Rockefellers but painted over due to its inclusion of Lenin. While we were visiting, there was also an incredible exhibit of Rivera and Picasso pieces, curated in conjunction. A rare glimpse of Rivera's cubism phase - who knew.
Casa Barragan: By far my favorite, favorite experience. The famous architect's home and studio are open to the public by appointment. The tour spans his home, garden, and work studio, and each detail was unreal. From the way a shadow would hit a wall, to the perfect shade of pink, Barragan's vision was insanely thorough and bordered on the spiritual. One of the most memorable experiences of my life -- truly changing how I think about space and color. (Note there are several other Barragan properties, and on future visits I plan to visit all. Also: if you'd like to take photos, you'll need to pay for a photo license. Based on the number of images below, I clearly found this worthwhile.)
Pasteleria Ideal: Ok so yes, technically this is a bakery, and not exactly art, but it is incredible and visual and arguably very cultural! A cavernous bakery on the bottom floor (can't vouch for the goods, though they looked just fine)... opens up on the second floor to cake after celebratory cake, all multiple layers high, with the most elaborate themes. Truly joyful and occasionally hilarious. Strong recommendation.
Roma: A beautiful, dynamic neighborhood, now heartbreakingly known for the earthquake. I can't speak to it in recent weeks, but when we were there the combination of chic restaurants, old buildings, and beautiful greenery were really lovely and where I'd hope to stay in the future.
Casa Azul: Of all the popular sites, this was my least favorite. But after spending so much time with Diego, there was no world where we wouldn't pay homage to Frida, so off we trotted. Purchasing tickets in advance is a must, though their site is a bit of a nightmare. Fight through it if you intend to visit though! And do not expect to get in early if you find yourself there a bit early (that said the surrounding neighborhood Coyoacan is really lovely -- beautiful colorful homes, rumors of delicious food). Once inside, the crowds and staging make it a little hard to envision Frida's childhood, but the image of her deathmask, neatly placed in her twin bed, and the wheelchair where she would make her final paintings stayed with me.
Jardín Centenario: Really sweet park square, surrounded by restaurants. Great people watching, not far from Casa Azul. Also in the vicinity is the enormous Vivero Coyoacan, a tree nursery-meets-public-park, ideal for wandering (image below).
If you have more time: I've heard great things about Museo Soumaya, Museo Tamayo (supposed to have a great design shop too), Muse Franz Mayer, Museo Dolores Olmedo, Museo Jumex, Biblioteca Vasconcelos, and Kurimanzutto, a contemporary art gallery.
All pictures below from Barragan