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Frida & Diego gives two greats their due at the AGO

Posted by Derek Flack / October 17, 2012

Frida Kahlo Diego RiveraThe AGO is on quite the run. From its Abstract Expressionist New York show last spring to major Chagall and Picasso exhibitions earlier this year, there's been no shortage of household names on display. Possibly outshining all of these is the soon-to-open Frida & Diego: Passion, Politics and Painting, a thoroughgoing show that celebrates and explores the life and work of two of the 20th century's most revered painters.

It's difficult to say much about either artist that hasn't been covered before. Although both painters were at the centre of Mexico City's art scene in the 1930s (and beyond), Frida Kahlo wouldn't receive the major international attention enjoyed by her husband throughout his career until 30 years or so after her death. Since that time, it might be fair to say that she's eclipsed even Rivera in terms of contemporary significance.

Frida and Diego AGOYou don't review the work on display when it comes to exhibitions of this stature. Needless to say, it's as visually stimulating as it's politically charged and intensely emotional, particularly in the case of many of Kahlo's self-portraits. Given these two remarkable subjects, what interests me most from an evaluative standpoint is the job the curator has done in assembling the show.

Frida and Diego AGOToward that end, Dot Tuer has made a number of thought-provoking decisions that are sure to pay dividends for viewers who are well acquainted with both painters' work and those who are not. The first of these worth noting is the integration of Rivera and Kahlo's work throughout the exhibition space. Although this may seem an obvious choice, it's not typically how their work is installed (most curators opt for separate rooms). The result is that a dialogue naturally arises between the artists' paintings, one that reveals their different aims, to be sure — but that also sheds light on how they evolved together.

Frida and Diego AGOThis, in fact, is the strongest aspect of the exhibition. Coupled with a major photographic component, one gets a profound sense of how connected the two were to one another — in painting and politics — despite the often tumultuous nature of their marriage. While Rivera's work, particularly his murals, have a monumentalism that Kahlo's paintings lack, she was an intensely political figure during her time and a profund influence on her husband in this capacity.

Frida and Diego AGOJuxtaposed with such overtly political paintings, Kahlo's already haunting self-portraits somehow become even more intimate and revealing. I suspect that one of the reasons her work is as loved as it is today is its striking emotional availability, which, unlike many of Rivera's paintings, is not tied to a particular moment in time. Thankfully, however, this exhibition doesn't get caught up in such comparisons so much as explore the intertwined nature of their work. In doing so, one's understanding of and appreciation for both artists is enriched.

Additional Photos

Frida and Diego AGOFrida & Diego AGO20121017-diego-sb.jpgFrida and Diego AGOFrida and Diego AGOFrida and Diego AGOFrida and Diego: Passion, Politics and Painting runs October 20th to January 20th. $25 (which includes general admission to the gallery).



BH / October 17, 2012 at 06:59 pm
Frida had a lot of technical skill but, regardless of her quote in the last photo, there's only so much a person can take seeing the same unibrow in every painting. A little variety breathes life into art.
Ling Gu replying to a comment from BH / October 17, 2012 at 11:19 pm
Well, at least Frida's work, as displayed in this article's photos, demonstrate greater variety of subject matter than that of, say, Rothko or Pollock (artists of limited vision, in my opinion).
hellebelle / October 18, 2012 at 07:29 am
i can't wait for this exhibit to come to toronto!
fdsfs replying to a comment from BH / October 18, 2012 at 01:03 pm
For you, a variety of main subjects in an artist's body of work may be important, but that's not universal. I actually prefer looking at art in which the artist has done many takes on the same subject - with that narrow focus, I almost feel like I can understand them & their intentions better.
Alex / October 19, 2012 at 05:22 pm
Frida had hair, just like any other person on the planet. Maybe you feel Frida had hair in places you don't find attractive. If you can't stand looking at her art, that means you can't stand looking at her. I think she is all the more beautiful for painting herself. She draws attention to what others may feel is imperfection and I think she is so brave for her creativity. I think she was a vivacious and amazing woman and I hope anyone who is such a critic doesn't go to the show. More room for me!
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