Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Cult of Frida Kahlo



I managed to erase the Frida Kahlo post I put up earlier, so here's an approximation of what was in the original. Yikes, it's going to be one of those days.

The big summer show at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is devoted to Frida Kahlo, whose face is all over town on shiny, ubiquitous signage.



I was an early Kahlo cultist from the time I stumbled across "Las Dos Fridas" (above) in a Mexican art history book in 1973, and was amazed that it was not already an iconic image worldwide. On a subsequent trip to Mexico City, I asked about the artist but nobody seemed to know anything about her beyond her identity as the eccentric woman dressed in outlandish Indian peasant outfits who was married to the famous artist/muralist Diego Rivera.



In fact, when I went to visit the suburban Mexico City house Kahlo and Rivera lived in which had been turned into a museum, I was the only person in the place on a Saturday afternoon besides an elderly security guard who was surprised that I was interested in looking at Kahlo's work rather than that of Rivera. My, how times have changed in 35 years.



Frida Kahlo died in 1954 and was "discovered" by an odd combination of gay men and feminists in the 1970s. Since that time, there have been books, operas, and multiple films made about her to the point where her pain-filled life threatens to become a cliche in the same way as Vincent Van Gogh. Still, her cryptic gaze in her many self-portraits will probably always retain its power, and her art has an integrity and eccentricity that is singular and real.



The exhibit at MOMA consists of three or four small rooms with too many people (even with timed tickets) trying to see the mostly small and medium-sized paintings. There are also another trio of rooms with tiny personal photos of Frida and Diego and their friends. It's worth going, however, just to see the huge 1939 canvas, "The 2 Fridas," and also to check out the proto-hippie paintings of her last decade where everybody seems to be sporting a third eye in their forehead.



The exhibit funnels into a gift shop that mirrors the one on the ground floor, and they are both appalling. My host for the afternoon, Patrick Vaz, was most enamored of the "Frida Kahlo Business Card Holder" for $12.00, since Frida was an avowed Communist her entire life. I was most amused by the Frida Shrine Kit which were next to rag dolls that looked to be repurposed Astro Boy souvenirs tarted up with a wig and a dress and a unibrow.

6 comments:

Matty Boy said...

As I was scrolling down, I swear to Leonhard Euler (big swearing for me) that as I saw the doll, I thought "What's the anime merchandise doing in the Kahlo section?" And then I read your comment and felt vindicated.

The Opera Tattler said...

I can't wait to go to this exhibit, but you betcha I'm going to wear something crazy so that I don't have to be bumped into by all the people. :)

The Girl said...

And how! I don't even think of the Mona Lisa when Dorfles' Kitsch comes up anymore, I think of Kahlo, which makes me rather sad.

sfmike said...

Dear Matty: The more I look at it, the more I'm sure it's an Astro Boy doll with a wig and a dress, but nothing else changed. The funny little cowlick on Astro Boy that goes straight up is still on "Frida."

Kit Stolz said...

Though I don't mind repurposing a lot of art (if we can put mountains on post cards, why not paintings on refrigerator magnets?) the "Shrine Kit" is just beyond belief...

Marla Fisher said...

Hi, I liked your post. you might be interested in this travel story I just wrote on Frida exhibit!
http://www.ocregister.com/articles/kahlo-exhibit-frida-2079093-san-fran