Cuernavaca Robert Brady Museum
Have you ever wondered what to do with the too many masks or gadgets that you bought on your travels? Come to Robert Brady Museum in Cuernavaca to learn how to display them and make your home an exotic looking place.
This house doesn’t feel like a museum, it is a marvellous look at art through the eyes of an eccentric and eclectic American who fell in love with Cuernavaca. Each room is a visual perfection.
We visited the museum with my husband in December 2014. I could not decide which room I would want to claim as my own. If I could, it would be the whole house! Robert Brady's eye for collecting was a gift. His collection is unique and it also shows you can mix and match whatever you want if you do it well and with taste. It is my aim one day to have a house like his, with various objects around, on the walls and shelves, in the kitchen, bathrooms, everywhere, exactly like Robert Brady did.
The PeopLe: The foreigners
Robert Brady (1928–86) showed an artistic flair from an early age and pursued his studies at the Chicago Art Institute, Temple University (Philadelphia) and the Barnes Foundation (Merion, Pennsylvania) before travelling to Europe. He settled in Venice for a while and made friends with a neighbour, the flamboyant Peggy Guggenheim. Both were rich socialites and both collected art.
Robert came to Cuernavaca in 1959 and he lived here for 24 years. Was it the indigenous culture that brought him here? We don't know his motivation but he was not the first foreigner to settle here. The city was established by the Olmec, 'the mother culture' of Mesoamerica. Aztec emperors had summer residences here. The Spanish conqueror Hernán Cortés established his favourite residence here. The Palace of Cortés became a summer residence of the Emperor Maximilian I of Mexico (I found the palace a bit grey and sad, in all honesty, a big contrast to the colourful house of Brady). Cuernavaca was nicknamed the 'City of Eternal Spring' by the Prussian naturalist Alexander von Humboldt in the 19th century. The Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, lived in exile in the city following the Iranian Revolution.
Josephine Baker was an African-American dancer who escaped racism in her home country by living and working in France. Her beauty was exotic, earning her the nicknames ‘Black Venus’ and ‘Black Pearl’. She and Brady were close friends and she often visited his home.
The city has long been a favourite escape for Mexico City and foreign visitors because of the warm, stable climate and abundant vegetation, and perhaps also for its closeness to Mexico City (80km).
The colonial houses hide beautiful courtyards, each being a real gem of the city. In fact, another nickname of the city is 'La Ciudad detras las Paredes', the city behind the walls. Robert Brady certainly fell in love with the city and created an art oasis behind his walls.
The FOCUS: The Living quarters
The sitting-room is devoted to Mexican folk art and features dance masks, indigenous pottery, naïve drawings, and comfy pillows made of huipiles (indigenous woven dresses from Oaxaca, Chiapas and Guatemala). The Mexican country kitchen has a mix of Talavera tiles, hanging cazuelas, decorative miniature pottery, and humble painted furniture.
Brady displayed the art objects in his own way. The eclectic style was created by great fabrics and bold colours that somehow unite the unrelated objects. It certainly gives me inspiration to mix and match our purchases from our trips and gallery visits. He mixed Indian silks, oriental rugs, pre-Columbian art, Spanish Colonial paintings, religious saints and crosses, a Byzantine mosaic, Mexican dance masks, a Canadian totem, and Mexican folk art in one home.
In total over 1,000 pieces! Every wall and every corner is a statement on their own. I always preferred white for house interiors. But this is what you do in Mexico; you can't display anything without bold colours (think of Frida Kahlo's Blue House).
Don't miss: The paintings
In 1961 Brady purchased Casa de la Torre, the former meteorological observatory of the Franciscan seminary within the Recinto de la Catedral, and began renovation. The observatory tower (from the 1600s) became his studio. He lavishly entertained famous people during the nine months of each year that he lived in Cuernavaca. Stories of wild parties still circulate among Cuernavaca residents to this day. Among them were the actress Rita Hayworth and the exotic dancer Josephine Baker. Brady was a real admirer of Josephine (they were not lovers as Brady was gay). He actually created a special bedroom in her honour. Also check out the statue of her in the famous banana skirt. Among the treasures are works by well-known Mexican artists, including Diego Rivera, Rufino Tamayo, Frida Kahlo, Miguel Covarrubias and Francisco Toledo, as well as Brady’s own paintings. He did not become famous as a painter but I quite liked his portrait of his friend Peggy Guggenheim. Check it out!
I found the visit very inspiring. Houses like his and Frida Kahlo's Blue House certainly changed my views on design and made me love colours; they provoke the senses and put a smile on your face. It made me think: does my house do that? Brady's house sort of tells us that LIFE is ART. The rooms are packed with stuff but clearly comfortable for living. I love the legacy he left us.
How to get there:
The Museum is at the back of the Cathedral in the city centre. It is closed on Mondays. The entry fee is 50MXN (discounts available for locals). Check out the souvenir shop and start planning your house décor now.
MIX and Match
Cuernavaca is rich in museums. In fact, it has 14!!! I personally recommend visiting The Palace of Hernan Cortés who was stationed here for a while during his conquest of Mexico.