Friday, January 04, 2008

Frida and me.

I finally got to view the Frida Kahlo exhibit at the Walker.

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"]


  1. I've been vascillating about seeing the exhibit and will probably decide not to go because of the crowds. Was disappointed by the O'Keefe exhibit. Glad you finally went to see it and your review was very interesting.

  2. Monica - Dang! I thought you went to see Frida already. Anyway. If you like her work at all, or apprecite the Spanish Colonial her work is derivative of, or, God forbid, you think her relationship with Diego was poignant - you should go see the exhibit. Go on an off day or time, and go alone. She has something to say. She was so not a liberated woman - yet feminists like to say she was. She is the epitome of a woman subjugated to a dream - whether that dream was a man who loved her, or an ideology she only imagined she understood. Even in death, she cannot escape her tragic destiny.

  3. Monica - I forgot to say I posted this for you. Also, the Dorothy Hale painting is awesome - worth the trip.

  4. I've always been envious of folks like you who have the capacity to evaluate a painting and report (in no less than a thousand words) a wealth of details that might otherwise have gone undetected by neophytes like me. I tell you quite honestly, I would much rather look at "The Descent Into Hell" than anything Frida produced. I don't mean to formulate a pejorative opinion of Frida, I just simply don't find her work engaging.

    I feel the same for Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture.

    But like always, I still enjoy your posts.


  5. I wish I could see that exhibit, as well as some of your retablo work.
    Oddly enough, some of Frida Kahlo's German cousins lived in Toledo. I'll have to try and post a picture of their house next week. From the accounts I heard, they don't seem to have known what to make of her. They met Diego when he was visiting Detroit, and I suspect that had a role in the attitude.
    You really should post pictures of some of your own work. It's good.

  6. Terry:
    Now you have made me really want to see the exhibit. If you can babysit for a few hours, I could go :)

    And, you really should post pics of your art. I think the everyone is of that opinion. Would love to see it, especially if you have anything you did that has trompe-l'oiel, like you mention.

  7. Terry, I'll bet you would be a "very fun tour guide"!

  8. Terry are you bi-polar or what? lol

  9. Jackie - I haven't been diagnosed but I wouldn't be surprised!

  10. Terry:
    OK, you talked me into going. We threw the kids in the car and raced over just in time for the museum to open. Since it was FREE Saturday, it was beyond crowded. OH.MY!!!

    You'll have to explain why you liked the Dorothy Hale one so much. I liked the face of Dorothy Hale near the bottom of the painting, but didn't see what you saw in the work. I posted my favorite painting on my blog, but also REALLY liked the Broken Column painting too.

    Despite the somber and serious tone of much of her work, hubby described it at very maternal. I agree. It was an odd mixture of Dali and schizophrenia. However, I really liked it and it was light years better than the O'Keefe exhibit. My novice opinion is her work is outstanding. Thanks for providing a great review that prompted me to go!

    Next exhibit, you'll have be the tour guide for all the local bloggers :)

  11. Monica -

    Before knowing who Frida was, I did a similar painting of a friend who had died and the Dorothy Hale image impresssed me when I saw it in a book much later. I felt a kinship with Frida, and understood something about her I think... and I understood something about myself.


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