A touring exhibition devoted to the art of Frida Kahlo (1907-1954) will be on view at the Philadelphia Museum of Art from February 20 through May 18, 2008. Organized in celebration of the 100th anniversary of Kahlo’s birth, it will present approximately fifty paintings from the beginning of her career in 1926 to the year of her death in 1954. Frida Kahlo is the first major presentation of the Mexican artist’s works in the United States in nearly fifteen years.
The exhibition will feature a selection of Kahlo’s self-portraits, still lifes, and portraits. Painted in vivid colors and rendered in great detail, her figurative and fantastical paintings are filled with complex symbolism, which usually relates to her life. In her remarkably varied, often iconic self-portraits Kahlo continually reinvented herself, depicting herself in various guises, as in a painting from 1948 in which she wears a Tehuano headdress. Paintings like The Two Fridas (1939) demonstrate Kahlo’s penchant for self-examination, and Henry Ford Hospital (1932) and The Broken Column (1944), among others, express her struggles with illness throughout her life.
One of the most distinctive aspects of the exhibition is that it will feature a selection of photographs of Kahlo and her husband, Mexican muralist Diego Rivera, by preeminent international photographers of the period, namely Manuel Alvarez Bravo, Lola Alvarez Bravo, Gisele Freund, Tina Modotti, and Nickolas Muray. Personal snapshots of the artist with family and friends, including such cultural and political luminaries as André Breton and Leon Trotsky, will also be on view. These photographs—several of which Kahlo inscribed with dedications, effaced with self-deprecating marks, or kissed, leaving a lipstick trace—pose fascinating questions about an artist who was both the consummate manufacturer of her own image and a captivating and willing photographic subject. On loan from the collection of designer and photographer Vicente Wolf, many of these photographs have never been published or exhibited.
Frida Kahlo includes loans from over thirty private and institutional collections in the United States, Mexico, France, and Japan, several of which have never been on public view in the United States. Two of the most important and extensive collections of Kahlo’s work – the Museo Dolores Olmedo Patiño Collection, Mexico City, and the Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection of Modern and Contemporary Mexican Art (currently housed in the Centro Cultural Muros, Cuernavac) – have agreed to loan many of their most treasured Kahlo paintings, making this exhibition a landmark presentation of her paintings.
Organized by the Walker Art Center in association with the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Frida Kahlo is curated by Kahlo scholar and biographer Hayden Herrera, and the Walker’s associate curator, Elizabeth Carpenter. At the Philadelphia Museum of Art, it will be co-curated by Michael Taylor, the Muriel and Philip Berman Curator of Modern Art, and Emily Hage, the Andrew W. Mellon Curatorial Fellow in the Modern and Contemporary Art Department.
The national tour of Frida Kahlo is sponsored by Bank of America and Televisa.
Major support for the national tour is provided by Margaret and Angus Wurtele.
Additional support is provided by the National Council for Culture and the Arts (CONACULTA) and the National Institute of Fine Arts (INBA), Mexico.
About Frida Kahlo
Frida Kahlo is one of the most celebrated and revered artists in the world. Between 1926 and 1954, when she died at the age of 47, Kahlo painted over sixty self-portraits and about eighty additional paintings, mostly still lifes and portraits of friends. Her work allowed her to both express and to fabricate her identity. “I paint my own reality,” she said. “I paint because I need to.”
Kahlo was born July 6, 1907 in Coyoacán, a southern suburb of Mexico City. She began to paint in 1926, while recuperating from a near-fatal bus accident. Soon thereafter, in 1929, she married the world-renowned Mexican muralist Diego Rivera. The relationship was tumultuous, and Kahlo recorded the ups and downs of her marriage in paint. She also illustrated the misery of her deteriorating health: the orthopedic corsets she was forced to wear, the numerous spinal surgeries, as well as miscarriages and therapeutic abortions. Such painful subject matter is mitigated by Kahlo’s intentionally amateur style and the small scale of her works, and sometimes by her sardonic humor and extraordinary imagination. Inspired in part by pre-Columbian culture and by Mexican mass culture, Kahlo’s paintings were celebrated by Surrealist André Breton when he came to Mexico in 1938 and declared her to be a self-made Surrealist. Although she rejected this designation, she recognized the advantages of being associated with the movement. Politically active, Kahlo espoused Communism and identified herself with indigenous Mexican culture, and she was a central player in both the artistic and political upheavals throughout the world in the 1930s and 40s.
On the occasion of her first 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 the jewel-like paintings she had created in earlier years, her late still lifes and self-portraits – many of them proclaiming her allegiance to Communism – exhibit her continued creativity throughout her life. She died on July 13, 1954.
In conjunction with the exhibition, the Walker Art Center is publishing a richly illustrated 304-page catalogue featuring more than 100 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 Photography 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.
Walker Art Center, Minneapolis (October 27, 2007–January 20, 2008)
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia (February 20-May 18, 2008)
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco (June 14–September 16, 2008)
Mexican Collections in the Philadelphia Museum of Art
Frida Kahlo coincides with an exhibition of another great Mexican modernist, Juan Soriano. Fragile Demon: Juan Soriano in Mexico, 1935-1950 will be the first monographic exhibition dedicated to Soriano in the United States. It will feature four paintings owned by the Philadelphia Museum of Art – which houses the most extensive collection of works by Soriano in the United States – as well as other important oils and gouaches from additional institutions, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Museo Soumaya and the Museo Andres Blaisten in Mexico City, and from the estate of the artist. Although Kahlo and Soriano represent very different aspects of modern Mexican painting, they knew one other and showed in some of the same exhibitions, and there are many interesting parallels and intersections between their works.
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. Both exhibitions were inspired in part by the Museum’s collections of Mexican art.
The Philadelphia Museum of Art has a distinguished group of paintings, prints, and drawings by Mexican Modernist artists. The permanent collection includes important paintings such as Man and Woman by Rufino Tamayo, War by David Alfaro Siqueiros, The White Shirt by Guillermo Meza and two portable frescoes – Liberation of the Peon and Sugar Cane – by the Diego Rivera. The Museum’s significant number of works from the colonial and pre-colonial period is largely derived from three sources: The Robert H. Lamborn Collection of colonial painting given in 1903, the Louise and Walter Arensberg collection of over 170 pre-Columbian sculptures and retablos from Mexico, and the group of seventeenth-century ceramics from Puebla de los Angeles collected by Edwin AtLee Barber during the first decade of the twentieth century.