I first witnessed a pairing of Rivera and Kahlo’s work at SFMOMA with Kahlo’s Frida and Diego and Rivera’s Indian Girl with Coral Necklace. It was striking to see them in conversation: Kahlo’s vibrant use of color and attentive brushstrokes in contrast to Rivera’s muted palette and tendency toward the broader line.
So to have an entire exhibition — and the High’s first-ever bilingual exhibit, including both a Red and a Yellow room installation by contemporary Mexican designers Héctor Esrawe and Ignacio Cadena — visiting Atlanta (the only US stop) is more than a treat. Frida and Diego: Passion, Politics and Painting is a smart glimpse into the overt and nuanced landscape of Frida and Diego as individuals, artists, activists and as a couple.
The inclusion of works from Rivera’s Cubist period and Kahlo’s Still Lifes remind us that they are far more than how we initially attempt to define them: as artist of the mural, or the retablo, the self-portrait, or as Surrealist. Remarkably, 25 percent of Frida’s entire collection is present. Rivera’s work includes, among others, a retrospective of mural reproductions – be sure not to miss the scandal behind his New York installation – as well as an impressive window into his final period after Frida’s death where he focused on ocean sunsets.
Adding to the exhibit are unexpected treasures that deepen our grasp of the complexity of their relationship. In addition to Frida’s painted torso cast — she suffered severe pain and multiple surgeries after a devastating bus accident at 18 – there are great couplings of photographs and paintings. Not only do we see Frida’s miniature painting and frame that she gave to Diego as an anniversary present, but we also see it hanging on a wall in a photograph as she paints Self Portrait as a Tehuana (Diego in My Thoughts). Fittingly, this painting is also part of the exhibition on the same wall as the photograph itself, providing windows within windows of experience.
There are further deft pairings that often lend multiple conceits to the entire exhibition: Kahlo’s portrait of Diego is mounted next to her early Self-Portrait with Necklace as if foreshadowing the Tehuana piece, while Diego’s own self-portrait is reserved for another room later in the show, almost as if intentionally solitary.
Given the vast levels of Diego and Frida’s relationship — she called him “my child, my son, my mother, my father, my husband, my everything”– one viewing can hardly be considered enough.
Frida & Diego: Passion, Politics and Paintings is on exhibition at the High Museum of Art now through May 12.