Diego’s Pyramid of Art: Anahuacalli

The sun is closer here, walking across this dark volcanic square. Rhythmic footsteps set to laughter spill from a dance class in a low building at one corner. We catch our breath and a glug of water on two incongruous wooden deck chairs, a respite under this shade umbrella we swung our way. In front of us rises the modern black towering pyramid that houses Diego Rivera’s pre-Hispanic collection, Anahuacalli.

Anahuacalli

The climb inside begins in the cool dark; shadowy stone god-animal figures rest on outcroppings from the walls and floor between abstract obsidian objects, mosaics in the ceiling form swirling images in shades of dusk. Even the windows down here appear to be stone, a murky ochre stained glass against the shadows. Following the roughly hewn galleries through low temple doors, passing from one god’s domain to the next, the brightly lit cases multiply, walls filled with organized yet unlabeled stone and pottery artifacts found nameless.

The staircase to the next level reaches up, narrowing sharply at a halfway landing at ceiling height and marching up single-file to more rooms of pottery, figures, characters large and small engaged in every human activity. The narrow windows are brighter, even moreso on the next level as the ceiling murals too grow in colorful enthusiasm. Animals, less god-like, and faces of the old, of caring and of fear. Long galleries down either side open up to the outside greenery originally hidden downslope from the edifice.

Head massage Seated figures Birds and mugs Fear

In the great middle of this pyramid we remove our shoes to join other stockingfooted visitors on a vast satellite image of the city laminated across the floor of this open ballroom and its vestibules, overlaid almost entirely with the black lake of prehistory, and the temples of antiquity outlined as sparse tiny wooden walls we step over gingerly as giants. Vertical windows stretching three stories above us illuminate the room brightly, and above our heads stretch Diego’s sketches for murals to be. Our socks slide noiselessly across the smooth floor to see the immense humanscapes from new perspectives. The unfinished work of this world reflects in the featureless ceiling.

Diego Rivera's sketches

The final course of narrow steps opens to a large stone terrace open to the sky: the mosaic murals are now beneath our feet, and the city is visible in all directions beyond the hilltop’s green preserve. We soak in the sun until we must wind our way back into the rock and seek that shade and water.

Emerging from Anahuacalli pyramid

Xochimilco and Museo Dolores Olmedo

A week ago our morning began with a walk to the nearby light rail trolley stop, on a line that starts from our corner of Coyoacán and terminates further to the southeast at the center of Xochimilco, a bustling market square, colonial churches, and the last remaining section of city canals and island cropland (chinampas). The canals are well known for the brightly colored flat-bottomed boats that launch from near Xochilmilco’s town center, and on weekends they are a jumble of punters with groups of frolickers seated along the covered central tables of the boats plied with food and drink by passing boats.

Canal boats Tying up

We disembarked the crowded two-car trolley (rides are half the price of the Metro system, and extend beyond its reach) a few stops before this hubbub and climbed the stairs across the tracks and up a short hill to briefly stop outside the former home of anthropologist Isabel Kelly, an engrossing personality from Stephanie’s research. Her private home’s facade is well-maintained and recognizable from the archival photos. The neighborhood becomes even more hilly here, and we followed the curves and dips of the side streets towards the former home of the much more widely known Dolores Olmedo, patron and friend of Diego Rivera.

Isabel Kelly's former home

Now a sprawling grounds and museum of the extensive collection of Rivera and Kahlo works which once filled her personal rooms, the initial impression is of a lush walled hacienda with strutting peacocks everywhere. Once the most flamboyant birds blocking your path are circumnavigated (rotating their arcs of feathers to follow your progress), you see them down each grassy corner, atop the hedges, atop the roofs and steeples. Finally as you approach the extravagant central dwellings and courtyards, you encounter Diego’s favorite breed of hairless dogs playing next to a bronze statue of their own kind (yes, all but one of these dogs is alive).

Peacocks on everything Roof peacock One hairless dog statue

Such a large collection of Rivera’s work forces you to confront the wide range of styles and experiences in his art. From early adult years in France and impressionistic to cubist still life and portraits, realistic to swoopingly abstract nudes, brightly colored bundled sledding children from a later visit to Russia, and the flowing strength in the human shapes of his industrial and historical memorializing murals, here represented by wall-sized paper-and-branch outlines and sketches. Olmedos house crows with an earlier era of wealth, even as Rivera’s art draws you into a folkart, indigenous, and communistic future.

A house full of Rivera So much ivory Oaxacan Tree of Life Celebratory Skeletons

Manifestación, José Clemente Orozco

The remaining walk to Xochimilco Centro is alive with today’s pseudonymous spray-painted murals. On a slow day like this there are taxis waiting two train stops away with placards for the canal boats, hoping to find misplaced tourists. As expected, the market and street stalls boomed and spilled into the hot street, bringing traffic to a snail’s pace as we wove alongside buses and between perfect stacks of oranges and mangoes. The boatdocks hidden down alleyways towards the canals were full of empty boats and quiet, waiting for the weekend.

Skate park art Street art Gecko street art
Street art Revolution or death
Canal boats at rest