I completely forgot how hot the Walker is... I kept thinking to myself, 'I cannot believe how warm they keep the galleries!' The new galleries are so cramped and IMO, poorly lighted; Kahlo's work was difficult to see, especially since the exhibit was so crowded. There were at least 3 docents conducting small group tours at once. They are always fun to listen to, because they so often get things wrong - either about the art or the painter. No doubt, I would be a very fun tour guide - let me tell you.
"Yes, this was painted when she was sleeping with..."
Viewing Frida's work was like visiting an old friend I never got along with, yet loved dearly. Everything was fine if I always told her what she wanted to hear. With Frida one has to listen to her go on endlessly about Diego and listen to the story of her traumatic injuries and surgeries - over and over. It would be okay if you could drink and smoke while you are with her, but you want to get away quickly before she insults you. That is pretty much Frida Kahlo.
Misery loves company.
I discovered Frida around 1990. I had finished a major work entitled "The Descent Into Hell" - it was a painting I made - "with scenes from the life of" - that is, it contained a central panel of the descent of Christ into hell, with scenes from my life in 15 little boxes. I did it as an altar piece with trompe-l'oeil niches on either side containing painted statues of saints. (No - there is no photo available.) I only tell you about it because it was the first time I combined icon-style painting with my Latino style retablo, in a trompe-l'oiel composition. Each vignette carried a scroll with verses from the Abbey-Road album by the Beatles. I kept the piece hidden until a friend told me it reminded him of Frida Kahlo's work and I ought to exhibit it. (Long story short - I exhibited it and it was sold.)
Painting a life.
I soon investigated Frida and was astonished how closely my work fit in with some of her pieces. Before discovering her art, I thought my blend of religious style art with secular themes was almost sacrilegious. I understood her work, and yet I was repulsed by some of it. In some cases, such as "A Few Small Nips" and "The Suicide of Dorothy Hale" (two of my favorites) one can have the experience of looking at crime scene photos. While some of her surgical paintings can come off as metaphysical x-rays of the artist.
Almost immediately I understood that what Frida had been doing in her art, was documenting her life, as well a few well chosen significant events outside of her immediate experience, which resonated with her. Her work, no matter how self-absorbed and dolorous, exists as valuable documentation of a person - indeed, a personality - living during the chaotic epoch that was revolutionary Mexico. Her art mirrors the cultural malaise that Mexico experienced within her lifetime.
I was not at all surprised - nor enlightened by the exhibit - as I said, it was like going to visit an old friend. Which is why I avoided the photography exhibit, I didn't need to be reminded of how tragic her life had been... Her paintings say enough about that.
[Art: Top - "The suicide of Dorothy Hale" Middle - "A Few Small Nips"]