In the movie Frida starring Salma Hayek, there is a jarring scene when she gets into the bus in Mexico City with her boyfriend, en route to her home in Coyoacán. The accident that happens is too terrible to conceive let alone describe: a handrail goes through her body from side to side, and ends up jolting the 18-year-old artist both emotionally and physically.
It’s little wonder then that at such a tender age, a time when most youths are finding their footing or dabbling with their passions and career, this type of near-tragic experience would cohesively mold the mindset and talent of Kahlo for years to come.
Angst shaped her oeuvre: paintings like The Broken Column (an oil on Masonite work done after she had spinal surgery) show a palpable, spirit-crushing anguish; The Wounded Deer (essentially a self-portrait of herself as a deer wounded with plenty of blood-tipped hunter’s arrows) is a study in victimization. Her tempestuous affair with the Communist muralist Diego Rivera did not alleviate her spirit: theirs was a roller coaster of a marriage, not a fairy tale. It’s little wonder that Kahlo’s paintings tug at the heartstrings with her lust for life and refusal to accept the status quo in a country whose political climate was anything but stable.
Kahlo fans in Florida can rejoice at a new exhibit that will open at the St. Petersburg Salvador Dalí Museum from Dec. 17 through April 19, 2017.
While the size of the paintings that will be shown is slim (Kahlo was not a particularly prolific painter: only 17 paintings and five pencil drawings will be on display in the temporary exhibit room on the third floor near the stairwell, along with numerous photographs), they will show how much her life and sensibility mirrored that of her artistic contemporary, Dalí.
“Kahlo mingled with the surrealists,” said Hank Hine, executive director of the Dalí museum, adding that she was more well-known outside Mexico before she was accepted by her own countrymen. “And Diego Rivera always spoke highly of her, as both he and Dalí idolized their wives, especially in their paintings,” he adds.
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The mystique of Kahlo inspired Hine to bring her work to the museum. “What she especially does well — like Warhol — is constructing her persona through her art,” he said. He was also inspired by the flurry of recent exhibits devoted to her work in the country, including the recent Rivera/Kahlo exhibit at the New York Botanical Gardens, adding that the Dalí museum was also going to have part of the show in the garden. While Salvador Dalí’s public persona --with his capes and wild eyes--were enigmatic and bizarre, Kahlo’s public persona too was art, “with her petticoats, tons of jewelry and always dressing like a Mexicana goddess,” Hine adds, noting that even though she looked rich, she hailed from a middle-class family.
Hine has always been interested in showing visitors an artist’s inner psyche and true persona: in this exhibit, visitors will see how provocative the Mexican artist was in her public image which wound up being an advertisement for her art.
He has paired several artists that most people would not think of contemporaries: we have seen a special showing of Disney and Dalí, and Picasso and Dalí over the past year alone. Kahlo is as much of a showman as Dalí was, and occupied a world of dream, loving surrealists like Duchamp.
Visitors will get treated to some special pieces that took about six years to secure the rights to show: a preparatory drawing of her, and a preparatory work of the bus accident which changed her life. He has also secured a few self-portraits: a very classical one (a chiaroscuro of her face and her illustration of a dream) and some work to show how she studied herself through her drawings. “We spent a lot of time gathering the footage that does exist of her,” he adds, describing Kahlo’s somewhat mesmerizing beauty.
The Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes referred to her as a “broken Cleopatra,” with her crippled foot, but with the consistent opulence of the Mexican Campesina, with her lace, ribbons, rustling petticoats and Tehuana headdress.
“This new exhibit will show the face of that dark butterfly, of the suffering that would not wither,” Hine says.
Frida Kahlo at The Dalí will be Florida’s first solo exhibition devoted to the Mexican painter, and will feature more than 60 Kahlo pieces including 15 paintings, seven drawings and several personal photographs. It will also extend outdoors where a special collection of flowers and plants shown in Kahlo’s personal garden at Casa Azul (her Mexican home) will grace the grounds. General admission is $24 and visitors may purchase advance tickets here.