I don’t think I’ve written about visual art before, but I must say this exhibition at Raleigh’s Museum of Art really, profoundly moved me. I, like many, learned much about Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera via the excellent Julie Taymor biopic Frida (2002), in which the paintings of Frida (played by a terrific Salma Hayek) actually come to life. But seeing the visual depiction of the arc of their lives displayed in person is a lightning strike.
I’m familiar with Diego Rivera’s work, a fairly well-to-do Mexican who studied in Paris and became known for his amazing murals and his paintings of Mexican life, especially of calla lilies. Frida Kahlo was a woman affected by polio and then a horrible bus accident that left her bedridden for much of her life. She had an easel made so she could paint in bed, and her work is defined by Mexican cultural elements and the obvious pain she went through.
The exhibition at the NC Museum of Art was especially interesting in the way it illustrated Frida and Diego’s lives. Beside the artwork, there are many, many pictures of the artists, early drawings, and Mexican traditional dress (which Frida championed). Both artists were Communists and embraced a pro-Mexican movement known as Mexicanidad, a passionate nationalism rejecting colonialism. There are also amazing portraits of Frida by Nikolas Muray, a Hungarian-American photographer with whom she had a tempestuous on-off affair.
On entering the show, you see Rivera’s 1943 painting Calla Lily Vendor:
It’s a true thing of beauty.
There is an early painting of Rivera’s from his studies in France. It’s an expertly executed cubist still life that could easily be mistaken for a Braque or Picasso. It’s obvious that Diego was a quick learner. Next up is Frida’s 1943 work Self Portrait as a Tehuana (Tehuana referring to the traditional dress worn since Aztec times by ladies in Oaxaca Mexico). Diego is literally on her mind in this painting, and it is a stunner:
I just couldn’t stop looking at this painting. It really spoke to me, all her worries and insecurities about her lover laid bare for all to see.
In the next room, there are many photographs, and some of Frida’s technical drawings, including the ones of her body after her miscarrage. This is such a sad image. There is also a reworking of the Statue Of Liberty as a technical drawing that was surreal and outstanding.
After seeing many photos of Frida with her treasured pets, rabbits, birds, monkeys, etc. we see Self Portrait With Monkeys from 1943:
Again, strangely evocative and otherworldly.
The final painting I’d like to discuss is The Love Embrace of the Universe, the Earth (Mexico), Diego, Me, and Senor Xolotl, 1949: