Saturday, November 1, 2014

Icons, Actors and Altars

Today I went on a cultural tour of some special altars set up in & around three museums in the south of the city. 
We started off at the Dolores Olmedo Museum in Xochimilco. Olmedo was a larger-than-life, businesswoman and patron of the arts, who dominated mid-20th Century Mexican society around the time of Rivera & Kahlo. She married a British journalist, Howard Phillips, in 1935, had relationships left, right & centre, made her millions in bricks & construction and bought up much of Rivera's paintings. Her hacienda is now home to the largest private collection of his 'easel' work in the world but is otherwise dominated by portraits off herself - and in that respect Kahlo & Olmedo were two peas in a pod. But aside from the (very interesting) museum, there was a temporary exhibition of Day of the Dead figures chronicling the whys, wheres and wherefores. "A bit Disney", as our guide pointed out, but fun.
From there we went to the National Museum of Contemporary Culture in Coyoacan which is less a museum and more a series of halls and courtyards which present temporary exhibits, concerts, plays, crafts, food etc related to modern Mexican culture. Everyone was dressed up, children and adults alike. Check this family out.
And finally we crawled through traffic to the Casa de Emilio Fernandez, a director and actor from Mexico's 'golden age' of cinema in the 40s & 50s. It's still lived in by his descendants and normally inaccessible, but at this time of year they fill it with his memorabilia, altars and other DofD paraphernalia and open it up to the public. It is a labyrinth of dark rooms, passageways and tight staircases and then the surprise of a 2-storeyed living room, all designed by Manuel Parra (who apparently built 800 houses in his long career). Much of it was made from lava. 
Fernandez himself was quite a character. In his early life he was a revolutionary, went to prison, escaped to the US, was a double for Douglas Fairbanks, boxer, diver in Acapulco… before taking up acting proper and then directing, winning the Palme d'Or for Maria Candelabra in 1943. Needless to say he was friends with Rivera and Kahlo, and part of the 2002 film Frida was shot in this house. An amazing place.

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