The fresco murals painted by Diego Rivera‘s disciples on the walls of the Abelardo Rodriguez Market in Mexico City are a historic art treasure at risk. Most on the first floor are deteriorating, peeling, fading, etched by attempts of graffiti at knife point, hidden by stalls, storage areas and obscured by dust. Yet, they are a must-see.
The disciples of Rivera came to Mexico City to learn from the master. Many were political idealists from the United States like Pablo O’Higgins who later became a Mexican citizen, the Greenwood Sisters — Marion and Grace, and Isamu Noguchi.
The murals are a backdrop to a bustling city market where vendors sell mostly everything from fresh fruit and vegetables, poultry, dairy products and household goods. There are comedors and juice stalls. Pull up a seat.
Be greeted by giggling pre-teen girls who are on vacation this week from school and are tasked with babysitting while their parents tend the stalls. Yes, they are on Facebook. And, yes, I shared this photo with them.
Pull up a seat to order a chicken taco or hot pozole. Most barely notice, if at all, the frescos that were painted in 1936. This was a time of political discontent, growing fascism, and the crisis of a worldwide economic depression.
Then as now, Mexico City was an international hub for artistic expression and the Big Three — Rivera, Siqueiros and Orozco attracted young artists who wanted to take part in the Mexican Muralist Movement, born from a strong tradition in the graphic arts and especially the work of Jose Guadalupe Posada.
Today, we are on an art history quest, Looking for Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, accompanied by an art historian who knows her stuff!
Today, we went to the Abelardo Rodriguez Market, but not before first visiting the Secretaria de Educacion Publica (SEP) and Colegio de San Ildefonso, where we saw the earliest frescoes of Rivera, Siquieros and Orozco.
My friends Cindy and Chris are with me on this art history adventure. I stayed with Chris and her husband Jeff after my knee replacement surgery in North Carolina last November. This is Chris’ first trip to Mexico. Cindy came to Oaxaca seven years ago but has never been in Mexico City before. Today we walked almost 12,000 steps according to my FitBit.
The muralists took risks. Their work was political commentary and a call for change: better health care, equal rights for women, a fair wage for workers with better working conditions, elimination of exploitation and a social system that provides food and shelter for families. They foreshadowed World War II in their work.
And in honor of Chris’ new favorite food, huitlacoche, I post the following photo:
If you are interested in bringing a small group of friends to Mexico City for this art history tour, please contact me.