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The central exhibition of the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 2008 was a collection of the paintings of the Mexican, Frida Kahlo, who was badly injured in a bus accident, spent several years in bed, followed by a lifetime of pain. Lacking formal training in art, she nevertheless worked at it hard and threw herself at her demigod Diego Rivera, the much older but famous painter of murals with a Communist theme. She was semi-bedridden, had a slight mustache, eyebrows that grew across the bridge of her nose, was alcoholic and drug addicted. Diego weighed nearly three hundred pounds and enjoyed a constant succession of philandering experiences. Frida also had a large sexual experience in both sexes; evidently, venereal disease was just an ordinary part of this household. They divorced, remarried, and all that sort of thing. One of her lovers, if that is the term, was Leon Trotsky. These people invented Haight Asbury long before the Hippies of the sixties.
Well, what about her art? Largely confined to bed, Frida tended to paint small canvases, using both herself and her cats as models, sometimes daubing the picture frame with blood. You find extremely fine detail when you get up close, but the canvas maintains a primitive simplicity of tones with great luminosity at a distance. When the viewer does get close, the small details often concern repellant, even disgusting features. Diego never bothered with little details, slapping large chunks of colored fresco on the murals celebrating downtrodden workers with hammers or glorifying Communist leaders with flags. Frida's pictures have much the same color scheme at a distance, but up close are blood and guts, disease, torment and suffering with an unreal organization. Somehow, these people were popular with Hollywood, actresses and models, and the literati like Clare Booth Luce. Evidently, they were excited to know.
Modern painting abandoned both beauty and representational features during the lifetime of the Rivera family and skipped on to post-modernism, defined as blurring the distinction between real and unreal. Both Diego and Frida were strictly representational throughout their careers but crossed over into the unreal rather earlier than most. The one constant in Frida's work, the one thing she was really interested in -- was herself. Consequently, her attraction for what has become known as the "Me Generation" is easy to understand.
Originally published: Wednesday, March 19, 2008; most-recently modified: Thursday, September 16, 2021
|Posted by: sara | Nov 9, 2008 12:57 PM|