17 July 2008

Frida Kahlo in San Miguel de Allende

A tourist and pop culture commodity as much as a world-renown figure of high art, images of and by Frida Kahlo are everywhere in San Miguel de Allende, on t-shirts, bottle cap earrings and keychains, in nichos, shopping bags, decoupaged boxes. . . . I had the opportunity to visit two Frida Kahlo exhibitions, both of art work, personal papers and objects mostly discovered after the artist's death in 1954. One of these exhibits, "The Heart of Frida," is currently open to the public in a gallery on Calle Jesus. The other, a collection in private rooms of a gallery in another part of San Miguel, is viewed by-appointment-only.
According to the accompanying brochure, "'The Heart of Frida Exhibition' is a collection of 37 intimate notes and letters and six drawings that have been hidden for over half a century in Mexico City. " These private papers were found in a laquered Michoacan box, on the inner lid of which is painted "Coyoacan Frida Kahlo 1950." These objects include illustrated letters, notes and poems to herself and to Diego Rivera.

The private collection has many, many more objects--including Pancho Villa's
revolver, gifted to Diego, and a box of preserved hummingbirds--as well as letters, boxes, paintings, and drawings on a variety of subjects, including Frida's relationship with Diego, her surgeries, intense pain, and premonitions of her death. One of the curators explained that Diego had captured the hummingbirds and speculated that he had used them to seduce women. He pointed to Frida's letter beside the box, in which she wondered how someone so sensitive in so many ways could be so insensitive. One of many powerful works is a wooden box in which Frida painted her body in the bottom and dressmaking forms on the inner lid. Another painting shows a shrouded body on a hospital gurney with her head floating over it. "What will I do without you? what will you do without me?" in Spanish scrawls beneath.

The curators of this exhibit, clearly scholars with special knowledge of Frida Kahlo's life and art--are preparing a book on the collection, due to be released in 2009. (I was not permitted to take photos of any of the objects except the revolver and so I am describing from memory. How wonderful it will be to have the book!)

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