The Philadelphia Museum of Art will be the only East Coast venue for the first major exhibition in 15 years to be devoted to Frida Kahlo in the United States. Frida Kahlo (February 20-May 18, 2008) examines the art of one of the most influential artists of the last 50 years. The exhibition includes 42 of the Mexican artist’s self-portraits, portraits, allegorical and symbolic paintings and still lifes, among them paintings that have never been exhibited before and others that will be seen in the U.S. for the first time. The exhibition is drawn from more than 30 collections in the U.S., Mexico, France, and Japan. Two of the most important and extensive collections of Kahlo’s work – the Museo Dolores Olmedo in Mexico City and the Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection of Modern and Contemporary Mexican Art, Cuernavaca – have lent many of their most treasured Kahlo paintings. The exhibition is organized by Walker Art Center in association with the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
Generally small in scale, Kahlo’s distinctive, jewel-like works are vividly detailed compositions often filled with powerful personal symbolism. In her iconic self-portraits the artist assumes multiple identities and reflects upon pivotal periods in her life, painting painful and often difficult subject matter, including Henry Ford Hospital (1932), an unprecedented depiction of a miscarriage she suffered. In The Broken Column (1944) the artist shows herself standing in tears in a vacant landscape after surgery, her injured spine an exposed crumbling column, with nails piercing her body in a manner that recalls the martyred Saint Sebastian. Some paintings reflect the artist’s notable wit. In Self-Portrait on the Borderline between Mexico and the United States (1932), which Kahlo painted during an unhappy period in Detroit, she wears a long pink dress and lace gloves – proper attire for an American society woman at the time – but she also subversively holds a cigarette and a Mexican flag, evidence of her resistance to accepted codes of conduct in the U.S. and her allegiance to her native homeland. Other highlights include two works that have never been exhibited in public before: Me and My Parrots (1941) and Magnolias (1945). Other iconic pictures, The Two Fridas (1939) and Diego and Frida 1929-1944 (1944) have not been exhibited before in the U.S.
In addition to the self-portraits and portraits, the exhibition includes Kahlo’s animated and often autobiographical still lifes. In Still Life with Parrot and Fruit (1951), Kahlo shows fruit cut open, a possible reference to the surgeries she endured throughout her life. The abundance of native fruits and flowers in these paintings also reflects her passionate embrace of Mexicanidád—a revaluing of indigenous culture and an ethos shared by many artists, writers, and musicians in the years following the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920). An avid student of the history of art, Kahlo drew from many sources, including Italian Renaissance and German Neue Sachlichkeit painting, and a range of Mexican art. Still Life (1951), which includes a Colima clay Xoloitzcuintli dog vessel and My Nurse and I (1937), in which the nurse’s face is fused with a Teotihuacan stone mask, exemplify Kahlo’s deep interest in and knowledge of pre-Colombian art. Paintings such as The Suicide of Dorothy Hale (1939) are based on Mexican ex-voto paintings, which are devoted to saints and typically rendered on metal with written inscriptions. In Frieda and Diego Rivera (1931) Kahlo announces her marriage to the famous Mexican muralist in a ribbon over her head, a feature borrowed from colonial painting. Kahlo painted Portrait of Dr. Leo Eloesser (1931) in a style that recalls 19th-century Mexican portraiture by such artists as José María Estrada, whom she greatly admired, in addition to paintings by German modern artists such as Christian Schad.
Complementing the paintings in Frida Kahlo are 118 photographs from Kahlo’s personal collection. They include images by preeminent photographers such as Carl Van Vechten, Gisèle Freund, Tina Modotti, and Nickolas Muray, as well as by the artist’s father, Guillermo Kahlo, a professional photographer who was instrumental in his daughter’s career. Included are personal images of Kahlo with her husband, as well as family and friends, among them such cultural and political figures as Leon Trotsky and Surrealist André Breton. Kahlo inscribed many of the photographs with dedications, effaced others with self-deprecating marks, and even kisses, leaving a lipstick trace. Juxtaposed with her powerful self-portraits, these photographs give heightened immediacy to her life, her home and studio, her husband and friends, and contribute to reflect on the ways in which the artist manipulated her own image and reinvented herself throughout her life.
Frida Kahlo is curated by the world-renowned Kahlo scholar and biographer Hayden Herrera, and the Walker’s associate curator, Elizabeth Carpenter. At the Philadelphia Museum of Art, it is presented by Michael Taylor, the Muriel and Philip Berman Curator of Modern Art, assisted by Emily Hage.
About Frida Kahlo
Frida Kahlo (1907-1954) is one of the most respected, beloved, and captivating artists of the 20th century. She was born on July 6, 1907 in Coyoacán, a southern suburb of Mexico City. She began painting in 1926 while recuperating from a near-fatal bus accident and continued to paint throughout her life. At a time when Mexican artists Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros, and José Clemente Orozco were internationally known for their large-scale public murals, Kahlo painted small, highly detailed compositions, about 200 works altogether. Her paintings earned the respect of Marcel Duchamp and André Breton, who declared her to be a self-made Surrealist when he came to Mexico in 1938. Although she rejected this designation, her paintings are highly symbolic and evocative of her inner life, at once introspective and theatrical.
In 1929, she married Diego Rivera. The relationship was tumultuous, and Kahlo expressed her rage and feelings of isolation in paint. In her work, she also alluded to the misery of her deteriorating health: the orthopedic corsets she was forced to wear, along with numerous spinal surgeries, miscarriages, and therapeutic abortions. Such painful subject matter is somewhat mitigated by the small scale of her works, and by her sardonic humor and extraordinary visual imagination. Politically active, Kahlo espoused Communism, references to which can be found throughout her late work. On the occasion of her first solo exhibition in Mexico in 1953, Kahlo defied doctor’s orders and attended the opening, receiving guests while reclining on a four-poster bed. Although sickness prevented her from creating such highly detailed paintings as those of earlier years, her late still lifes and self-portraits exhibit her continued creativity throughout her life. She died on July 13, 1954.
The exhibition is accompanied by a richly illustrated 320-page catalogue featuring nearly one hundred color plates as well as critical essays by Herrera, Carpenter, and Latin American art curator and critic Victor Zamudio Taylor. A separate plate section is devoted to works from the Vicente Wolf Collection. The catalogue also includes an extensive illustrated timeline of related socio-political world events, artistic and cultural developments, and significant personal experiences that took place during Kahlo’s lifetime, as well as a selected bibliography, exhibition history, and index. It is available for purchase ($ 49.95 cloth) in the Museum Store, by calling (800) 329-4856 or by visiting the website.
For ticket information, call 215-684 SHOW (7469) or visit the website. Ticket prices range from $20 (adult) to $10 (children 5-12). Children under 5, free. Tickets include a complimentary audiotour. Student and other discounts available. Handling fees apply.
The Walker Art Center, Minneapolis • October 27–January 20, 2008
The Philadelphia Museum of Art • February 20–May 18, 2008
The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art • June 14–September 16, 2008
Dorrance Special Exhibition Galleries, first floor
The national tour of Frida Kahlo is made possible by Bank of America and Fundación Televisa. Major support for the national tour is provided by Margaret and Angus Wurtele and the Fundación/Colección Jumex. Additional support is provided by Craig Baker. The exhibition is supported by an indemnity from the U.S. Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities. Additional support is provided by the National Council for Culture and the Arts (CONACULTA) and the National Institute of Fine Arts (INBA), Mexico. In Philadelphia, the exhibition is also made possible by Aetna.
Additional support is provided by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the City of Philadelphia, The Pew Charitable Trusts, The Robert Montgomery Scott Fund and The Kathleen C. and John J. F. Sherrerd Fund for Exhibitions, The Women's Committee of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Agnes Gund and Daniel Shapiro, and Frida’s Friends, a group of generous individuals. Promotional support provided by NBC 10 WCAU, Amtrak, and Al Día.
Mexican Collections at the Philadelphia Museum of Art
Frida Kahlo builds upon the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s commitment to collecting and exhibiting Latin American, and specifically Mexican, art. It will coincide with Fragile Demon: Juan Soriano in Mexico, 1935-1950, a small focused exhibition featuring the early work of another important Mexican modernist. In 2006, the Museum organized two major traveling exhibitions of Latin American art, Treasures, Tesoros, Tesouros: The Arts in Latin America, 1492-1820, and A Revolution in the Graphic Arts: Mexico and Modern Printmaking 1920-1950.
The Philadelphia Museum of Art’s exceptionally strong holdings of Mexican art, from pre-Columbian sculptures to Mexican modernist paintings, offers a rich context for Frida Kahlo. Mexican modernist works in the permanent collection include such important paintings as The Mad Dog (1943) by Rufino Tamayo, War (1939) by David Alfaro Siqueiros, Bicycle Race (1938) by Antonio Ruiz, Triumph of Death (1938) by Frederico Cantú, and two portable frescoes – Liberation of the Peon and Sugar Cane (both from 1931) – by Diego Rivera.
The Museum also houses significant number of works from the colonial and pre-colonial periods, including colonial paintings from the Robert H. Lamborn Collection, pre-Columbian sculpture and retablos from Mexico from the Louise and Walter Arensberg collection, and a group of seventeenth-century ceramics from Puebla de los Angeles collected by Edwin AtLee Barber. Selections of these holdings will be on view at the time of the exhibition.