A new metro station opened in Mexico City last Saturday. It will be a station that even those leery of riding the subway will want to visit. It’s this year’s Days of the Dead altar at the Dolores Olmedo Museum in southern Mexico City, presented hand-in-hand with masterpieces of art on loan from the Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris.
This exhibit came about because relations between France and Mexico
have been mended by the current administrations in both countries. In
exchange for lending Mexico the paintings from France’s national
collection, 75 paintings and drawings by Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera
are on exhibit in the Musée de l’Orangerie.
This convergence will be capped by French President Hollande’s visit
in early 2014 — the 50th anniversary of the visit by General Charles de
“Masterpieces of the Musée de l’Orangerie” is made up of 30 paintings
by 11 impressionist and modernist painters. They will be on exhibit
until Jan. 19, 2014. The exhibit features paintings by Paul Cézanne,
André Derain, Paul Gauguin, Henri Matisse, Amedeo Modigliani, Claude
Monet, Pablo Picasso, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Henri Rousseau, Chaim
Soutine, and Maurice Utrillo.
In recent years Days of the Dead altars at the Olmedo Museum have
been dedicated to the art and crafts of different states in Mexico. This
year’s extravaganza goes a step further. As a visitor you’ll enter the
altar through Paris’ Montmartre metro station. After a few twists and
turns you’ll emerge into Paris of the early 20th century, populated by
life-sized skeletons going about their daily activities.
Pay close attention to the scenery. You’ll see it again in the
paintings in the exhibit or you’ll recognize it as taken from paintings
by the French masters. Maurice Utrillo, in skeleton form, is painting
“Notre Dame.” The finished painting is the last one in the exhibit.
You’ll also see the paintings he would sell to fruit and vegetable
vendors along the Seine. Look for Chaim Soutine painting in the butcher
shop — one of his favorite topics. One such painting is in the exhibit.
Don’t miss La Calaca Catrina — an elegantly dressed female skeleton.
It is an emblematic figure in Mexico’s Days of the Dead made popular by
Mexican cartoonist and satirist José Guadalupe Posada. Diego Rivera came
to know her by purchasing copies of Posada’s broadsheets on his way to
class at the San Carlos Academy in Mexico City. Later Rivera
incorporated her into in his mural “Dream of Sunday afternoon in Alameda
Park.” In it, Rivera as a boy holds her hand while Posada stands the
other side of her. In the Parisian scene you’ll see La Calaca Catrina on
a street corner accompanied by Posada, now also a skeleton.
Exiting from the “metro station” you’ll be in the Olmedo Museum’s
extensive gardens. You’ll see peacocks on each side of the path and dogs
of metallic color, the descendants of xolitzcuintle dogs, that stand so
still it is hard to distinguish them from the sculptural portrayals of
dogs in their pen.
“Masterpieces of the Musée de l’Orangerie” is in the museum’s main
building. It begins with Claude Monet’s “Argenteuil” and ends with
Maurice Utrillo’s “Notre Dame.” The five galleries between those two are
filled with paintings on loan. Museum director Carlos Phillips said
“there hasn’t been a foreign art exhibit in Mexico with as many
paintings of this quality in the last 50 years.”
Niches in the wall are large enough for two or three people to stand
in and are framed as if they are paintings hung on the wall. In them
you’ll find masks, dresses, and tuxedos.
The entire experience is a delight. Where else could you enjoy the
whimsy of creating your own art a few steps from a staid art gallery,
combined with Mexicans’ ability to laugh at death, all set amid lovely
The only thing that brought a bigger smile to my face during my visit
to the museum last Thursday was hearing Marie-Paule Vial, director of
the Musée de l’Orangerie, talk about the Mexican collection on display
in her museum.
She said: “All over Paris people are talking about Diego, talking
about Frida. The surprise for the French public isn’t in discovering
Frida. She’s already well known through film and exhibits in Europe. But
through the exhibit at Musée de l’Orangerie we’ve been able to show
Diego’s work on canvas.”
Hard for many in Mexico to accept. For years I’ve been hearing that
“Frida is known because of her husband.” Fitting of the French though —
didn’t they refer to JFK as “Jackie’s husband?”