In 1955, Mexican artist Diego Rivera traveled to Acapulco from Moscow, where he had been receiving cobalt radiotherapy treatments for cancer. Rivera came to convalesce with his largest collector and love interest at the time, Dolores Olmedo, at her vacation home, which they renamed Casa de los Vientos, or House of the Winds. Set near the top of a sea cliff overlooking the El Mirador Hotel, the house offered Rivera stunning views of Acapulco’s iconic cliff divers and front-row seats for extraordinary sunsets.
Olmedo built Rivera a large art studio on the site in 1956. It was here that he tried to capture the changing nuances of retreating daylight in a series of 25 sunset paintings. It was also here that Rivera, who died in Mexico City in 1957, produced some of the most colorful and inspired mosaic work of his long career.
Those familiar with Rivera probably know his epic murals inside Mexico City’s National Palace better than his mosaics scattered across Acapulco. Most of them are found at Casa de los Vientos, which has been maintained by the family’s aging gardener since Olmedo’s death in 2002, and was damaged by two earthquakes last year. Affixed to the white stucco walls surrounding the property and clinging to the ceilings inside Rivera’s studio, these are high-relief mosaics — meaning the mythical snakes, mermaids, corn stalks and toads they depict are three-dimensional, standing out in relief from the flat surface. Local lore describes these mosaics as an extravagant love note to Olmedo, who cared for the artist’s financial and emotional needs at the end of his life.
Until last year, Casa de los Vientos was still a private residence. That changed when Mexico’s federal government, the cultural ministry in the state of Guerrero and the Carlos Slim Foundation teamed up to buy the property, with its spacious home and studio built into a terraced cliff, for $3 million, setting it on a course to become a premier cultural center.
“We as a government saw an opportunity to buy this amazing house, with its priceless Rivera artworks,” says Guerrero’s cultural secretary, Arturo Martinez. “At the moment, we are making modifications to turn a private home into a cultural center that includes Olmedo’s house, Rivera’s studio and mosaics, and a new gallery space that we are currently planning.”
Casa de los Vientos isn’t the only Acapulco building bejewelled with mosaics. Francisco Eppens Helguera, a contemporary of Rivera’s, worked here in the 1950s creating a large mosaic of the Aztec deity Xipe Totec on the exterior of Hotel Boca Chica. Eppens, who studied at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, where Rivera built his high-relief mosaics on the school’s main library, is best known for his modern designs on Mexico’s postage stamps and his redesign of the country’s coat of arms. His mural of Xipe Totec, an assemblage of bright tiles confined on a boxy surface wall, is sometimes referred to by locals as an Eppens stamp.
Natalia de la Rosa, an art history PhD candidate at UNAM and a curator at the Museum of Modern Art in Mexico, noted that much of the creative overlap with Rivera and other artists in Acapulco was not a coincidence.
“It’s no wonder that several artists were working in Acapulco in the 1950s,” Rosa says. “The city’s port was at its peak in this decade, and government economic programs dedicated to tourism had architects like Mario Pani and Enrique del Moral building hotels, villas and Acapulco’s airport.”
Although Acapulco’s tourism industry has been hurt by reports of narco- violence in the state of Guerrero and beyond, local and federal officials say they are undeterred and continue to restore and repurpose Casa de los Vientos, which Martinez says will be open in June. Until then, travelers can take advantage of a bargain: Entrance to the house is by appointment only, but it’s free.
Casale is a freelance journalist based in London and Los Angeles.
More from Travel:
Hotel Boca Chica
Playa Caletilla S/N, Fraccionamiento Las Playas
A modish 1950s crash pad and a totem to midcentury modernist architecture housing a stellar sushi restaurant and one of the top spas in Acapulco. Rooms $120.
Hotel Los Flamingos
Av. Lopez Mateos S/N, Las Playas
A bastion of old Acapulco living; although its rooms haven’t been updated in decades, the views, guacamole and margaritas here are second to none. Rooms from $65.
Club de Mar
Playa Caletilla S/N, Fraccionamiento Las Playas
Acapulco’s best outdoor dinning sushi restaurant at Hotel Boca Chica. Entrees from $12.
La Perla Restaurant
La Quebrada 74, Centro
Reliable Mexican cuisine served with bird eye views of the Acapulco cliff divers inside the Hotel Mirador. Entrees from $12.
Casa de los Vientos
Inalámbrica 6, La Playas, 39390
A cultural center and former home of Dolores Olmedo, where Diego Rivera kept a studio and built some of the last high-relief mosaics of his career. By appointment only. Free.