Remedios Varo is evading me. I am writing a piece about her life here in Mexico and coming up against dead ends. The doctors who run the office where she supposedly once lived say she could never have lived there (their family has apparently owned the place for generations). The neighbors in San Rafael know nothing. The internet is surprisingly silent. The curator of the recent Museum of Modern Art (MAM) exhibiton on Varo, “La Dimensión del Pensamiento,” is on vacation.
This is what I know: I know she used to hang out in the Roma with Leonora Carrington, maybe at her house on Chihuahua street – about 6 blocks from mine. I know she came to Mexico with Benjamín Péret and ended up with Walter Gruen, an Austrian immigrant escaping the Nazis. He provided Varo with the financial stability she needed in those last nine years of her life to produce some of her most well-known work including “The Call” and “Woman leaving the psychiatrist’s office.” The gallery where she presented her first collective show, Galería Diana, no longer exists. She knew Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera but there was no love loss between them.
But where did she live?
Mexico has in many ways adopted Varo as a native daughter and the MAM has one of the largest collections of Varo’s work in the world. The pieces were all donated by Walter Gruen, Varo’s husband at the time of her death and his wife Anna Alexandra. The recent show included books and diaries from Varo’s private library during her 20 years here in Mexico – books about alchemy, physics and poetry, authors like Jean-Pierre Chabrol, Lama Yongden, Rachel Carson and William Henry Hudson.
Wandering among her books at the MAM, I thought about the view from her library window into the city and was more determined than ever to find out what it may have looked like.