BootsnAll Travel Network

Frida Kahlo at SF MoMA

A while ago, Jeremy and I went to a large exhibit of Frida Kahlo at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.  They have a great informational feature here, if you have fast internet access.

This was my first opportunity to see a significant number of her pieces all collected together.  I came to the exhibit with limited background knowledge.  Jeremy is still trying to get me to watch the film “Frida”, but so far not.  I had seen the reproductions that graced the dorm rooms of my generation; but not much more.  I was amazed, shocked, fascinated, intrigued.

By and large, I try to resist the notion that I should interpret the work of an artist from their biography.  But the work of Frida Kahlo makes that position more of a challenge, because so many of her major paintings are self-portraits or contain images of herself.  Perhaps the most disturbing of all the paintings was “The Two Fridas“.    In it, she paints a double self-portrait–one in a Victorian wedding dress the other in traditional Mexican attire.  It was painted at the time of her [first?] divorce from Diego Rivera and contrasts the Frida that Diego loves with the one that he no longer does.  There’s much more going on, and I don’t think that I have even begun to digest it.  But, in this case anyway, it seems that it really helps to understand the image to know the facts of her life at the time that she painted it.

I think that another part of the impact of the painting is to see the original, full-size and full-color.  I’ve come to believe that something special happens when I’m actually in the room with the original painting.  Maybe it’s like the special energy that comes from a live performance of music compared with a recording.  The live performance may not be as “technically perfect”, but it can have a kind of energy that no recording can match.

The other interesting feature of the exhibit at SFMoMA is that there is a significant amount of genuinely biographical material, including both photographs and film.  In my view, the Frida of the photos and films is a more beautiful and happier woman that the Frida of the self-portraits.  But this perception just gets me tangled up again in trying to read psychology from art or to read psychology into art, which I’m still convinced, is no favor to either.


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