The life and work of Frida Kahlo (Mexico, 1907-1954) were so defined by personal tragedy that it would be impossible to think of her without acknowledging the intense drama she experienced. Her work bears the mark of sorrow, and pain was the source of her artistic expression.
FRIDA KAHLO. Henry Ford Hospital, 1932.
Though Kahlo‘s oeuvre is well recognized and highly valued in the international art market, some still reject her penchant for grotesque surrealism. Perhaps the grittiness of her work places the viewer in an awkward position. But without a doubt, it attains one of art’s basic goals: it is deeply moving.
Diego Rivera (Mexico, 1886-1957) studied painting in Mexico and Paris (1909-1921). The influences of his academic studies are evident in his work, as are the experiences from his life and travels through Europe, at a time when the European avant-garde already knew of Picasso, Cezanne and Renoir.
Although his work is characterized by abstraction, Rivera is also a figurative muralist. He started visiting the United States in the 1930’s, where he painted murals at the California School of Fine Arts and the American Stock Exchange Luncheon Club, both in San Francisco, as well as at Detroit Institute of Arts (he also painted a mural for New York’s Rockefeller Center that was destroyed before it’s unveiling).
DIEGO RIVERA. Sunflowers, 1943.
From the onset of their relationship, Rivera encouraged Kahlo, a member of the Communist Party, to continue painting. Their marriage lasted 25 years, with intervals of separation, divorce and infidelity on both sides (including that of Rivera with Frida´s sister and hers with Russian communist leader, Leon Trotsky).
Kahlo and Rivera are one of those couples in the art world for which passion borders on insanity. The title of the exhibition at the High, Frida and Diego: Passion, Politics and Painting, aptly captures the couple’s turbulent lives. Diego Rivera was already an established artist when he met Frida. He had painted more than 200 murals and his influence on the work of Kahlo is undeniable, though their styles were quite different.
According to curator, Elliott King, the aim of the exhibition is to “unite the two artists, talk about the context they shared, the influences that joined them as a couple – their shared commitment to Mexico, their political ideas and their commitment to the Marxist revolution”.
FRIDA KAHLO. The Love Embrace of the Universe, the Land (Mexico), Diego, I, and Señor Xólotl, 1949.
The exhibition opens with photographs of both artists, and continues with a small gallery of self-portraits, one of them signed by Frida de Rivera. From there, the first part of the show unveils works from Rivera’s youth in Europe, where he experimented with cubism and post-impressionism before returning to realism.
A challenge for the show was how to exhibit Rivera´s murals, given the impossibility of moving them from their sites. The High Museum solved the problem by including the reproduction of two of them. In El Arsenal, Frida is portrayed delivering weapons to a group of workers with a Soviet flag in the background, a paradigm of their Marxist beliefs.
Next are works by Frida Kahlo, including El cuerpo vulnerable (The Vulnerable Body), Henry Ford Hospital and La columna rota (The Broken Column), other emblematic works by the author, and seven of her famous self-portraits.
The High Museum of Art in Atlanta complements the exhibition with an intense program of lectures, workshops, conferences and the projection of videos on the life, work and passion of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. ■