For the past few years, the ghost of Frida Kahlo has been haunting me whenever I have checked out galleries overseas and in the States. She is there with her steely but gorgeously ornate demeanor staring back at me in moments of sadness or pure joy. Almost like she had a secret she wanted to let me in on – but cheekingly it was mine to figure out in her brush strokes.
Another sign popped up yesterday. She’s in Toronto!
The Art Gallery of Ontario is hosting an exhibition from Oct 20, 2012 – Jan 20, 2013 entitled Frida & Diego: Passion, Politics and Painting featuring more than 80 works on paper and paintings and more than 60 photographs of the couple from the 1920s and 1930s. The works are assembled from three distinguished Mexican private collections on Mexican art, the Museo Dolores Olmedo, Colección Gelman, and Galería Arvil and covers 17,000 square feet at the AGO.
The exhibition provides the opportunity to view almost one quarter of Kahlo’s entire body of work and a range of Rivera’s painting styles from his early cubist period and studies for his Mexican murals to his portraits and landscapes. Photographs by Nickolas Muray, Lola Alvarez Bravo, Bernard Silberstein and others help tell the story of one of the most prolific and politically charged couples of the 20th century.
The exhibition was emotionally overwhelming in its exquisite curation. The works are powerful and raw. I loved being able to take quiet moments off by myself in nooks to inhale the love affair of Frida and Diego, their politics, their obsession, the pride in their Mexican heritage and the pure talent that was beaming from the paint, photographs, film footage and sculptural pieces in the space.
Perhaps all those years of her wooing me were finally coming together in this moment as I sat in a chair glimpsing around as other media stood in their own moments of awe. If Frida really does follow me around in galleries – I felt her presence today in her paint colours.
I didn’t know that beginning in 1944, Kahlo kept a journal that she filled with watercolours, poems, dreams and thoughts, including the symbolic meanings she attached to various colours.
Green: good warm light
Magenta: blood of the old prickly pear cactus
Brown: colour of molé (bitter chocolate sauce used in Mexican cuisine), fading leaves, earth
Yellow: madness, sickness, fear, sun, happiness
Cobalt Blue: electricity and purity, love
Black: nothing is black, really nothing
Green: leaves, sadness, science
Greenish Yellow: more madness and mystery
Dark Green: colour of bad news and good business
Navy Blue: distance, tenderness
Kahlo’s distinctive style was intimately related to the popular folk art tradition of retablos or ex-votos. These small votive paintings on tin were made by anonymous artists to ask for divine intervention. In the Henry Ford Hospital, Kahlo employed the retablo style by placing objects in the picture relating to a tragedy—in this case, her miscarriage in Detroit in 1931. Other paintings document anguished moments in her relationship with Rivera.
Frida Kahlo’s self-portraits were tied to her dual European and Indigenous heritage. In addition to depicting autobiographical aspects of her life, they also reflected Mexico’s rich culture and traditions through references to folk art, traditional jewellery and indigenous clothing. Kahlo frequently depicted herself in traditional Tehuana attire (for example, Self-Portrait as a Tehuana, Diego on My Mind 1943), an act of solidarity with the Zapotec women of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec.
Her secret? I’m still processing what I experienced yesterday. What I know for sure is, her art can not help but touch you, trigger you and remind you to truly ‘live the life’ you want to live not what you are supposed to live. That includes embracing the beauty in life’s grotesque revelations and appreciating its impact on your life in the moment.
If you are visiting Toronto I suggest putting the AGO on top of your list for a visit to see Frida and Diego at their best. If you live in Toronto – take a break from the holiday push and make time. This exhibit will be gone before you know it. If you’re not as lucky as me to have Frida haunting you – it’s time to say a proper ‘hola!’.
Admission: Adult $25.00 (Frida & Diego: Passion, Politics and Painting (Includes General Admission) or $19.50 (General Admission Only). Admission is FREE for AGO Members and for children ages 5 and under. Tickets can be booked by visiting ago.net/frida-diego-passionpolitics-and-painting
Art Gallery of Ontario 317 Dundas Street West, Toronto, ON M5T 1G4
Phone: (416) 979-6648
Sun, Tue, Thu-Sat 10am-5:30pm