This exhibit is an invitation to identify Frida the painter, beyond the iconic figure, understand the path that lead her to become the representative of Mexican art to the world.
If we go back to the time of her youth, we find a young lady, who seems to have recovered from the serious accident she suffered in 1925. She poses not only for her father, the photographer Guillermo Kahlo, but also for the viewer. From that moment, we see an intentionality that will last until her last days: knowing and enjoying being observed.
Around 1945, at the age of 38, Frida knew herself to perfection: an adult woman who had accumulated countless life experiences, perhaps more than any other woman of her age. Her artistic production included a number of famous self-portraits, but it is in Self-Portrait with Small Monkey that we see her surrounded by all the elements of her personal world.
Self-Portrait with Red Beret (1932) reminds us of “pal Frida” (the friend- girlfriend-lover of Alejandro Gómez Arias). By that time, we find an teenage girl immersed in a world literature, excited about traveling, passionate about a young love that would never blossom the way she hoped, and at the same time, a woman who would discover her own inner strength.
In all these paintings, references to Mexican symbolism, culture, and history appear throughout. They came from the education she received in her family home, at school, on her jaunts through the city’s streets and marketplaces. Perhaps that is what makes them more approachable and appealing to the viewer, much more than the intentionality of the painters who were part of the art movement known as the Mexican School of Painting. Artistically, Frida grew as an individual, without belonging to any school; she created her own style and therefore, she became both timeless and eternally modern.
Rivera’s artistic influence is reflected in Kahlo’s work, in some of the subject matter that the muralist was working on in those years: Mexican children. From those years is her Little Virginia, a portrait with combinations of bright colors and the same clashing characteristics typical of Mexican folk art.
An interesting detail is on the back of the portrait of Virginia, where one can see, upside down, the Sketch for Self-Portrait with Airplane. The painting based on this sketch was auctioned in 2000, breaking three major records: the highest price at an auction for a Latin American work; being a painting by the most highly sought-after woman painter in the world; and the most expensive work by any Mexican artist up to that time.
All the elements seen earlier in her self-portraits are still here: the pre-Hispanic pieces that remind us of Diego Rivera; the parrots, which at other times surrounded her, are now perched on the fruit; the ribbons, which she used to accompany the dedications in her portraits and self-portraits, are replaced by small Mexican flags stuck into the fruit, but with the same intentionality of affection as before.
During the period after her abortion, the artist produced a lithograph Frida and the Miscarriage. Only three of the twelve copies she made of this lithograph survived, for she destroyed all the others. On the left margin she wrote in English: Those proofs are not good; not bad considering your experience. Work hard and you will get better results.
Another painting, also on a small scale, is A Few Small Nips of 1935. This work arose from two situations in Frida Kahlo’s life: on the one hand, Diego Rivera’s affair with her sister Cristina around 1934, that she soon found out about, and on the other, her evident sense of black humor: unable to render her own pain, she focused on the misfortune of another woman.
But where does this story begin? Where does Frida Kahlo the painter come from? She explains it in a text from 1947:
I started to paint (...) from the sheer boredom of being bedridden for a year, after an accident in which I fractured my spine, my foot, and other bones. I was sixteen then and was very keen on studying medicine. But the collision between a Coyoacán bus and a Tlalpan streetcar put an end to that (...).
It is paradoxical that in her Diary she had written, “Tragedy is the most ridiculous thing that ‘man’ has”. If there is a life that has been tragic, it is precisely that of Frida Kahlo: polio at the age of six, an accident at 18 (with severe injuries to her spine that would plague her throughout her life), several miscarriages, gangrene of the right foot at the age of 42, and finally, the amputation of that same foot at the age of 46. If this is not tragedy, then what is?
Carlos Phillips Olmedo
Director del Museo Dolores Olmedo
Josefina García Hernandez
Directora de Colecciones y Servicios Educativos
Jean-Renaud Dubois Langlet
Director de Museografía del Museo Dolores Olmedo
Directora de Comunicación y Relaciones Institucionales del Museo Dolores Olmedo
Fernanda López Cano
Coordinadora de Difusión y Contenidos Digitales del Museo Dolores Olmedo
Archivo del Museo Dolores Olmedo
Erick Meza y Javier Otaola