This past weekend while visiting family in New Jersey, Eric and I had the opportunity to visit the Frida Kahlo exihibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. I admit that I’m not a big fan of Kahlo’s work. It seems flat and folky on one hand and just bizarre on the other hand. But because she was such a force in the art world and someone that I was not very familiar with, I decided to get tickets to the exhibit to learn more.
And learn I did.
Kahlo was born in Coyoacan, a suburb in Mexico City. She was a polio survivor and intended to become a doctor but a horrific accident at the age of 18 changed those plans and the course of her life. The accident, which fractured her back, collarbone, and ribs, shattered her pelvis, and injured her shoulder and foot, left her convalescing for more than a year.
It was during this period of recovery that Frida started painting; primarily self-portraits and still lifes. At the age of 21 she met Diego Rivera, an artist 20 years her senior. Their tumultuous relationship (marriage, divorce, infidelities, remarriage) lasted until Kahlo’s death in 1954. And it is the near constant pain from her accident and frequent surgeries, a miscarriage and her inability to have children, Rivera’s affairs, and politics that are reflected in Frida’s paintings.
Now I understand the power behind her work. I’m still not crazy about it but I admire her ability to express herself so freely and so independently. As with many artists, Kahlo did paint more traditional pieces (e.g. still lifes) which sold more readily than the disturbing pieces that came from her soul. But it is those haunting, bizarre, and tragic images that stay with you.
Through this exhibit I also learned more about the symbolism in Kahlo’s paintings and her frequent inclusion of animals and pets who took the place of the children she could not have. This exihibit also included numerous photographs of Frida, Diego Rivera, their friends and family which provided another aspect into her life. Yes, she did smile.
This exhibit is on display at the Philadelphia Museum of Art through May 18, 2008.
Note: The image on the cover of the brochure is titled Self-portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird/Autorretrato con collar de espinas y colibri (1940). The photograph of Frida was taken in 1932 by her father, Guillermo Kahlo.