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When Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo arrived in Detroit in April 1932, the city was not in great shape. It was the height of the Great Depression. Sales of automobiles plunged, and there were layoffs in all industrial businesses. Welfare spending skyrocketed. By 1933 the city was in a financial crisis, defaulting on bond payments, and basically had to pay teachers and firemen with IOUs.
Diego was here to paint what would become the 27-panel “Detroit Industry” mural at the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA). But there were talked of shuttering the DIA before they arrived.
Thankfully, things turned around. The city’s finances recovered. The DIA did not close, and the couple stayed in Detroit until March 1933.
Frida was a self-taught artist from a small town on the outskirts of Mexico City. She took up painting while recovering from a bus accident when she was 18, in which she broke nearly every bone in her body. Frida is best known for her self-portraits; she created 55 of them over her lifetime (and at least 140 painting in total). Two of her most groundbreaking works (“Self-portrait on the Borderline between Mexico and the United States” and “Henry Ford Hospital”) were painted during her stay here in Detroit.
In 1929, Frida married the already famous Diego Rivera, a cubist and post-impressionist known for his murals. Diego was from a well-to-do family and had formally studied art at the Academy of San Carlos in Mexico City from the age of ten, followed by a sojourn in Europe. He was still married to his second wife, Guadalupe Marin, when he first met Frida. The couple had a tumultuous marriage; they divorced in 1939 but remarried in 1940 then stayed together until Frida’s death in 1954. Diego died in 1957.
The DIA is currently exhibiting a showcase of work by these two extraordinary artists, including some work that hasn’t been shown in 30 years. It’s a celebration of two artists who left their mark on our city, and whose careers were changed by their experiences in Detroit.
Accompanying the exhibition is a pretty sweet popup cantina called Azul (“blue” in Spanish). Its name pays homage to The Blue House, the home where Frida grew up – a house her father built in 1907. Today The Blue House is a museum to Frida’s work.
Azul at the DIA opened on March 12 and will continue popping up at the DIA through July 12.
In celebration of Frida’s and Deigo’s heritage, Azul serves light Mexican fare like pork, chicken and vegetable tacos with beans and rice on the side. If you just want a snack to munch on, order up salsa or guacamole with tortilla chips. They have libations, too: Mexican beers, wine and margaritas. Much of the cantina’s decor was sourced from Southwest Detroit.
Stop by for lunch and get inspired before you hit up the exhibit, or refuel after you’ve explored the art and discuss your impressions with a friend while you linger over a bowl of guac and a tangy margarita. Azul is open from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays; from 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. on Thursdays and Fridays; and from 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.