Frida Kahlo at Norton Museum of Art with Diego Rivera and Mexican Modernists

The Norton Museum of Art presents “Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera and Mexican Modernism from the Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection” through February 6, 2022. Featuring over 150 works, including paintings and works on paper collected by Jacques and Natasha Gelman alongside photographs and period clothing, the exhibition includes the largest group of works by Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera ever on view at the institution.

Presenting these artists’ creative pursuits in the broader context of the art created during the renaissance following the end of the Mexican Revolution in 1920, the exhibition also includes work by Manuel and Lola Álvarez Bravo, Miguel Covarrubias, Gunther Gerzso, María Izquierdo, Carlos Mérida, David Alfaro Siqueiros, Juan Soriano, and Rufino Tamayo. It explores these artists’ distinctive interpretations of modernism as expressed in themes of nature, home, and family in photographs and easel and large-scale mural paintings.

“Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera and Mexican Modernismis” is organized by the Vergel Foundation and Mondo Mostre in collaboration with the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes y Literatura (INBAL). It is curated by the Vergel Foundation curator, Magda Carranza de Akle, and for the Norton by Ellen E. Roberts, Harold and Anne Berkley Smith Curator of American Art.

Throughout, the Norton will host both remote and in-person programs, including curator conversations, art making, book discussions, and special tours.

In conjunction with this exhibition, the Norton will launch “Guía,” an eight week-long bilingual docent training program for students from the local John I. Leonard High School. Participants will learn   conversations with exhibition visitors and sharpen their visual literacy and public speaking skills. After the eight-week program, students can lead tours of the exhibition in Spanish.

A companion exhibition titled “Frida and Me” (through December 5), curated by Assistant Curator Rachel Gustafson, will present a selection of works that respond to and are inspired by Kahlo’s works and practice.

About the Exhibition

Jacques Gelman and his wife Natasha built strong relationships with leading figures of the artistic movement that had arisen after the Mexican Revolution. The Gelman Collection consists primarily of works the couple acquired from modernist friends in this period.

Gelman was a film producer during the Golden Age of Mexican cinema in the mid-twentieth century and he and his wife’s close bonds with Mexico’s creative community are underscored by the numerous portraits of them made by friends featured in the exhibition.

Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera are among the most influential figures of Mexican art in this period, known for their creative synergy with each other along with their personal relationship. “Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera and Mexican Modernism” emphasizes the connections between Kahlo, Rivera, and their contemporaries’ collective experimentation with modernism.

Featuring 22 paintings and works on paper by Kahlo and 18 paintings, works on paper, and aquatints by Rivera, the exhibition addresses the artists’ private experience with each other and situates their work in the larger history of modernism in Mexico, a narrative enhanced with portraits and photographs of the couple by artist friends and peers.

Sections of the exhibition address the resonance and exchange of influence evident in the two artists’ work, along with Kahlo’s struggles with lifelong chronic pain induced by a childhood battle with polio, and a bus accident that shattered her pelvis and spine at 18-years-old.

Tracing the influence of Mexicanidad, the belief that Mexicans could create an authentic modernism by exploring the country’s indigenous culture, the exhibition reveals the centrality of this idea to Kahlo’s iconography, manifested as a distinctive brand of magical realism colored by Mexican folk art. Even her adoption of traditional Tehuana clothing reflected Kahlo’s desire to establish a connection with ancestral Mexico while expressing a cross-cultural identity that honored her heritage and status as a modern woman.

A selection of period vintage dresses sourced in Mexico, which include colorful embroidered blouses and full skirts, will be on view in the exhibition, enriching the presentation’s examination of her art in the context of her life and persona.

“This exhibition offers viewers the opportunity to see beloved works by Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera in-person and experience the physical impact of their creative vision,” Ellen E. Roberts, Harold and Anne Berkley Smith Curator of American Art, said. “The scope of Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera and Mexican Modernism returns major works of Mexican Modernism to the context in which they were produced—in a collaborative artistic community seeking to make an authentically Mexican modern art by exploring and embracing shared roots and folkloric traditions.”

Notable works in the exhibition include:

Nickolas Murray (American, born Hungary, 1892-1965), Frida Kahlo on Bench #5, 1939. Carbon print, 17 15/16 x 14 3/16 in. (45.5 x 36 cm). The Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection of 20th Century Mexican Art and the Vergel Foundation © Nickolas Muray Photo Archives.
Nickolas Murray (American, born Hungary, 1892-1965), Frida Kahlo on Bench #5, 1939. Carbon print, 17 15/16 x 14 3/16 in. (45.5 x 36 cm). The Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection of 20th Century Mexican Art and the Vergel Foundation © Nickolas Muray Photo Archives.

Nickolas Muray, Frida Kahlo on Bench #5, 1939

This photograph was taken in the New York studio of the photographer Nickolas Muray, who photographed celebrities across the world for magazines like Vanity Fair and Vogue. Muray and Kahlo met in 1931 and embarked on a volatile romantic relationship that lasted nearly a decade. Muray’s photographs of Kahlo are among the most well-known images of her, capturing the artist’s confidence and poise in vivid color.

Muray was also a supporter of Kahlo’s work, purchasing her painting What the Water Gave Me (1938) from her exhibition at the Julien Levy Gallery in 1938.

Frida Kahlo, Self-Portrait with Monkeys, 1943

Flora and fauna feature prominently in Kahlo’s paintings, often representing larger themes within her work. In this painting Kahlo is surrounded by four monkeys, which she was kept as pets in Coyoacán. Frequently described as surrogates for her maternal energies, the monkeys in this work may allude to Kahlo’s new role as a mentor as she began teaching at La Esmeralda, the Ministry of Public Education’s art school, the previous year.

When her declining health stopped her from teaching, she invited students to meet at her home, forming a small group of four regulars who became known as “Los Fridos.”

Diego Rivera, Calla Lily Vendor, 1943

In murals, easel paintings, and watercolors made throughout his career, Rivera represented the everyday lives of the indigenous peoples of Mexico. Among his most iconic subjects were calla lily sellers, the earliest of which he painted in 1925. In this version the jubilant bundle of calla lilies dominates the canvas, largely obscuring a figure behind them who appears to be adding more to the basket. The two women in the foreground wear traditional fringed shawls, the one on the left pulling a length of fabric around the basket that will be used to tie it to one of their backs.

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