The exhibition everybody has been talking about recently opened at the Art Gallery of New South Wales – Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera: from the Jacques and Natasha Gelman collection.
Presenting 33 masterpieces from the Gelman collection, the exhibition captures the evolution of Frida and Diego’s artwork, love and life through the first half of 20th century in a fast evolving and revolutionary Mexico. The Mexican revolution began when Frida was 3 years old but she later gave her birthdate as 1910, wanting her birth to coincide with that, so her life would begin with the birth of modern Mexico.
“I have suffered two grave accidents in my life, one in which a streetcar knocked me down … The other accident is Diego” (Frida Kahlo)
Frida represents the tormented and suffering artist par excellence: her short life has been really challenged by health problems. She contracted polio at age 6, which left her right leg permanently damaged. In 1925, she suffered serious injuries as a result of the accident between the bus she was travelling on and a streetcar. In addiction, an iron handrail pierced her abdomen compromising her reproductive capacity.
The accident left her in a great deal of pain and, during the recovery in a full body cast, she started painting, specialising in self-portraits.
“I paint myself because I am so often alone and because I am the subject I know best” (Frida Kahlo)
Self Portrait with Monkeys, 1943 – Frida never received academic instruction but was appointed Teacher at School of Painting and Sculpture in Mexico City. Not long after she started teaching, her health condition got worsened and she had to hold classes in her own house. Only 4 loyal students attended her classes, they called themselves “Los Fridos”, here represented by the monkeys. Photo by Chiara Elena Russo
In the meantime Rivera spent time as part of the French avant-garde movement in Paris, before returning to Mexico to paint politically charged murals. It was here in 1927, where she first approached him while he was painting a mural for the Ministry of Public Education. He first became her mentor and then her lover. With the contrast of her family, worried by age difference, the pair married in the 1929, divorced in the 1939, and then married again in 1940, remaining together until Kahlo’s death in 1954.
Self – Portrait as a Tehuana (Diego on my mind) , 1943. Frida’s mother had Spanish ancestry and her father was German, however, Kahlo always expressed her devotion to the Mexican culture through her artwork and traditional clothes and accessories choices. Photo by Chiara Elena Russo
This exhibition showcases her realistic painting style which was dominated by self portraits and the works of Diego Rivera. Their paintings are displayed alongside a collection of photographs by various people from their tumultuous life together, including Edward Weston, Lola Alvarez Bravo, and Guillermo Kahlo, Frida’s father.
The exhibition offers a rare chance to see masterpieces from two of Mexican art history’s most famous names, providing a fascinating insight into both their personal life and their politics. One of the most interesting point touched by the exhibition, how both Frida and Diego lives and arts were strictly connected and influenced by the massive changes going through Mexico at that time and how they played a main role in the political and cultural Mexican revolution.
The Love Embrace of the Universe, the Earth, Myself, Diego and Senor Xolotl, 1949
Frida’s work has been often described as surrealist also by the principal initiator of the movement Andre Breton calling Kahlo’s art “a ribbon around a bomb”. Frida always rejected that label, arguing her work reflected more of her reality than her dreams.
“I never paint dreams or nightmares. I paint my own reality” (Frida Kahlo)
The exhibition ends with three video showing Diego painting one of the Detroit Industry Murals, a series of 27 frescoe panels depicting industry at the Ford Motor Company, Leon Trotsky arriving to Mexico City in 1936 where he was offered asylum and where lived few years at Frida and Diego’s house (La Casa Azul) before he was murdered in 1939, and a family’s casual gathered at La Casa Azul, filmed by one of most famous Frida’s lover, photographer Nickolas Muray.
Nickolas Muray video at La Casa Azul – Photo by Chiara Elena Russo
Frida died on July 13, 1954. Diego wrote that the day Kahlo died was the most tragic of his life, and that, too late, he had realised that the most wonderful part of his life had been love for her. La Casa Azul in Coyoacan became a museum in 1958, housing some of her works.
“I hope the leaving is joyful; and I hope never to return” (Frida Kahlo)
It took about 20 years after her short and suffered terrain life ended, to become an icon, a politically correct heroine for every wounded minority.
“I paint flowers so they will not die” (Frida Kahlo)
Info and tickets: http://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/exhibitions/frida-kahlo-and-diego-rivera/
Chiara Elena Russo