Museum  February 8, 2019  Chandra Noyes

An Intimate Look at an Icon: Frida Kahlo Comes to the Brooklyn Museum

© 2018 Banco de México Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums Trust, Mexico, D.F. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Frida Kahlo, Self-Portrait with Braid, 1941. Oil on hardboard. The Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection of 20th Century Mexican Art and the Vergel Foundation.

© Nickolas Muray Photo Archives. Photo: Brooklyn Museum

Nickolas Muray (American, born Hungary, 1892–1965), Frida in New York, 1946; printed 2006. Brooklyn Museum; Emily Winthrop Miles Fund, 2010.80.

One of the most recognizable faces in all of art history is making her big debut at the Brooklyn Museum this weekend. The highly anticipated blockbuster exhibit Frida Kahlo: Appearances Can Be Deceiving is the largest U.S. exhibition in ten years devoted to Frida Kahlo, and the first in the United States to have the privilege of displaying a collection of her personal possessions usually housed at the artist’s lifelong home in Mexico City, the Casa Azul (Blue House). Known for her deeply personal self-portraiture that is imaginative and surreal, the exhibition explores themes of politics, gender, clothing, national identities, and disability, as they play out in her life and works.

While taking in the captivating self-portraits she is known for is a wonderfully direct way to get to know this iconic artist, the diverse collection of personal objects on display gives us an even more intimate encounter with Kahlo. More than 100 of her personal artifacts, including the artists’ own clothing, jewelry, cosmetics, and orthopedic corsets, as well as photographs, letters, and drawings, give us a fuller picture of the lived experience behind the now iconic paintings.

Photo by Miguel Tovar. © Frida Kahlo & Diego Rivera Archives. Bank of Mexico, Fiduciary in the Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo Museum Trust

Frida Kahlo's dresses, installed at the exhibition Appearances Can Be Deceiving at the Frida Kahlo Museum, 2012.

Born in Mexico in 1907, Kahlo had plans to become a doctor when a tragic bus accident at 18 badly broke her back and left her infertile. Those injuries on top of a weakened leg resulting from childhood polio led Kahlo to have dozens of surgeries throughout her adult life, with intermittent periods of convalescing, and she often lived with considerable pain. Kahlo had a tumultuous marriage to the painter Diego Rivera, who she met a meeting of the Mexican Communist Party and wed in 1928. With him, she traveled the U.S. and Mexico, and forged her own artistic voice. She died at 47 after a prolonged illness.

Throughout her life, Kahlo carefully crafted her own image, both in real life and on the canvas. She chose the traditional dress and elaborate headpieces of her mother’s Tehauna people, to show her cultural pride, as well as to disguise her orthotics and injuries under the brightly colored billowing skirts and flowing blouses. Through the 10 major paintings on display, her clothing, and ephemera, we can see an artist taking control of her identity in the face of an illness that was threatening to control her life. Because of her strong political convictions, pride, and self-determination, Kahlo insisted on defining herself and her life through both her daily rituals of self-presentation and her self-portraits.

Frida Kahlo, Appearances Can Be Deceiving
© 2018 Banco de México Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums Trust, Mexico, D.F. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Frida Kahlo, Appearances Can Be Deceiving, n.d. Charcoal and colored pencil on paper. Collection of Museo Frida Kahlo.

Prosthetic leg with leather boot. Museo Frida Kahlo.
© Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo Archives, Banco de México, Fiduciary of the Trust of the Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo Museums. Photo: Javier Hinojosa, courtesy of V&A Publishing

Frida Kahlo's prosthetic leg with leather boot. Museo Frida Kahlo.

Lucienne Bloch (1909-1999), Frida Kahlo at the Barbizon Plaza Hotel, New York, 1933
© Lucienne Allen dba Old Stage Studios. Image courtesy of Old Stage Studios

Lucienne Bloch (1909-1999), Frida Kahlo at the Barbizon Plaza Hotel, New York, 1933.The Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection of the 20th Century Mexican Art and the Vergel Foundation.

Plaster corset, painted and decorated by Frida Kahlo
© Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo Archives, Banco de México, Fiduciary of the Trust of the Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo Museums. Photo: Javier Hinojosa, courtesy of V&A Publishing

Plaster corset, painted and decorated by Frida Kahlo, Museo Frida Kahlo.

Nickolas Muray (American, born Hungary, 1892-1965), Frida on Bench, 1939.
Courtesy of Nickolas Muray Photo Archives. © Nickolas Muray Photo Archives

Nickolas Muray (American, born Hungary, 1892-1965), Frida on Bench, 1939.

Frida Kahlo's string of irregular Pre-Columbian jade beads with a central pendant carved as a fist. Probably excavated from a Maya site.
© Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo Archives, Banco de México, Fiduciary of the Trust of the Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo Museums. Photo: Javier Hinojosa, courtesy of V&A Publishing

Frida Kahlo's string of irregular Pre-Columbian jade beads with a central pendant carved as a fist. Probably excavated from a Maya site.

While this exhibition originated at the V&A in London, the Brooklyn Museum is putting their own twist on it by placing special emphasis on Kahlo’s visits to New York City. Her international art career was launched by a 1938 exhibition at the Julien Levy Gallery, arranged for by surrealist poet André Breton. Photos from this period by photographer Nickolas Muray bring Kahlo and 1939 Greenwich Village to life in vivid color. The Brooklyn Museum also provides larger context to Kahlo’s life and love of her native land through the display of objects from their collection of Mesoamerican art.

Though successful in her lifetime, Kahlo did not become famous until the 1970s. Since then, her influence and fame has continued to increase, and she is now one of the most famous artists in art history and a feminist icon. Appearances Can Be Deceiving gives us an intimate look at a figure that has become larger-than-life.

Frida Kahlo: Appearances Can Be Deceiving in on view through May 12, 2019, at the Brooklyn Museum.
 

About the Author

Chandra Noyes

Chandra Noyes is Managing Editor for Art & Object.

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