PHILADELPHIA, PA.- 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 more than 40 of the Mexican artists 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 Kahlos 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.
Generally small in scale, Kahlos 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 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 artists 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. 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 of friends, the exhibition includes Kahlos animated and often autobiographical still lifes, which the artist called naturaleza viva (alive nature). 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 fruits and flowers in these paintings reflects the obsession of the artist, who was not able to bear children, with fertility.
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 dog, and My Nurse and I (1937), in which the nurses face is fused with a Teotihuacan stone mask, among others, exemplify Kahlos deep interest in and knowledge of pre-Columbian 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.
Over 100 photographs from Kahlos personal collection complement the paintings in Frida Kahlo. They include images by preeminent photographers such as Carl Van Vechten, Gisèle Freund, Tina Modotti, and Nickolas Muray, as well as by the artists father, Guillermo Kahlo, a professional photographer who was instrumental in his daughters career. Personal images of Kahlo with her husband, as well as family and friends, including such cultural and political luminaries as Leon Trotsky and Surrealist André Breton, will also be on view. Kahlo inscribed many of the photographs with dedications, effaced others with self-deprecating marks, and even kissed one, 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.
Organized by the Walker Art Center in association with the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Frida Kahlo is curated by the world-renowned Kahlo scholar and biographer Hayden Herrera, and the Walkers 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, Mellon Curatorial Fellow.
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 Rufino Tomayo were internationally known for their large-scale public murals, Kahlo painted small, highly detailed compositions, about 200 works altogether. Her paintings earned her 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, at once introspective and theatrical.
In 1929, she married Diego Rivera. The relationship was tumultuous, and Kahlo recorded its ups and downs in paint. In her work, she also illustrated 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, and identified herself with indigenous Mexican culture.
On the occasion of her first exhibition in Mexico in 1953, Kahlo defied doctors orders and attended the opening, receiving guests while reclining on a four-poster bed. Although sickness prevented her from creating the highly detailed paintings she had created in earlier years, her late still lifes and self-portraits exhibit her continued creativity throughout her life. She died on July 13, 1954.
Catalogue - 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 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 Kahlos 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 gift shop website.