I recently got lucky at the Denver Art Museum. I made an appointment for the member preview show to see the Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, and Mexican Modernism exhibit. That’s not the lucky part. The luck came when the appointment was not canceled due to COVID.
The Denver Art Museum is doing its best to exercise diligence in the face of a very challenging time. Back in July, I booked an appointment to gaze upon the works of Homer Winslow and Frederic Remington. All attendees wore masks, and a headcount was very clearly in place. I felt comfortable and safe, and again, lucky. I stood before Homer’s Undertow and got a little choked up. It was the first time I had seen it in person, and I found myself wondering about traveling to see art in our changed world.
As the days led up to October, I remained suspect that I would have my chance to view Kahlo’s work in person. What I was already missing, even prior to seeing the exhibit, is that her voice was part of a collective revolution in creativity that followed a national uprising. This resulted in work that holds the viewer captive with deeply hued mystery, incendiary politics, and the religious iconography that punctuates Mexico’s history.
Kahlo & Rivera’s Cachet
This exhibit leads with relics of Kahlo and Rivera’s life together in Mexico and beyond. Black and white images of the two of them depict their shared passions in politics, and lend context to the sense of volatility in Mexico. But it is what they shared in art, and what they brought out in one another, that continues to make their bond legendary.
It could be easily assumed that Kahlo played second fiddle to Rivera’s larger than life personality. But if anything, her pure originality tells us what he must have fully understood: there was simply no one like her that came before, and we will never see the likes of her again. She served as her own deeply pained muse, her body broken and embattled, yet still found the capacity to love.
Her abundant devotion to Rivera, and to family and country, reflects the pleasure and pain of her life, and her canvas carries her voice with intent. Kahlo’s symbolism can be frightening, imbued with death and loss. Her choices speak to us with a kind of unsettling familiarity, while her vibrancy draws us ever closer.
Kahlo’s work is described primarily as surrealism (and also “magical realism”), and this point can hardly be argued when viewing her most signature pieces. But Kahlo herself was not fond of labels in general. “I never painted dreams,” she is reported to have said. “I painted my own reality.” The European Surrealists, who galvanized the visual delivery with their own dream-like sense of aesthetic, embraced her as one of their own.
Among her Mexican contemporaries, the works of Olga Costa, Juan Soriano, and Gunther Gerzso are also shown in this exhibit. For me, it was an opportunity to see pieces I had never considered by artists who, until now, were somewhat unknown to me. The impact of their work is more easily understood thanks to this exhibit, with Mexico’s social unrest at an ever-present simmer beneath the themes.
The curators have done a thorough job addressing the history of Mexico’s labor movement through these selections, and the art fan is reminded that our shared experiences can drive cultural change. Our humanity fosters connection more than division. Coming together in the face of adversity can lend to powerful creative forces.
Keep Seeking and You Shall Find
Attending this exhibit was me reaching for more and trying to do so safely. DAM, in its infinite mission to push hope in the form of art, is still booking appointments for this show, but a friend reported that her recent reservation was canceled. Stay on top of the status of DAM’s exhibit hours by following their Facebook page.
Don’t wait for this—or any exhibit or show—to open again “permanently” to expose yourself to art. My takeaway in this instance, and always, is to keep chasing the inspiration. After attending this show, I enrolled in an online course and learned even more about Kahlo’s contemporaries. I roped someone into watching the 2002 film Frida, starring Salma Hayek (that might have been my sixth time). I trolled the webosphere for art-themed podcasts like a crazy person.
Inevitably, I am sure I will find myself viewing more art virtually rather than in person. And that is okay with me. There are so many cultural institutions and galleries trying to keep their missions afloat, and if my “attending” a show virtually is a form of support, I’m doing it.
The current state of the world should remind us of why certain ideas hold importance, and to celebrate those ideas by continuing to shape a dialogue that is both accessible and inspiring.
Denver Art Museum: Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, and Mexican Modernism
from the Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection
October 25, 2020 – January 24, 2021
I don’t need to write an in-depth piece on this exhibit – DAM has it covered! Dig into Kahlo, Rivera, and their contemporaries… and linger.
Frida Kahlo (2020), a film by Ali Ray: Available Friday, November 27, 2020
This film was only released from the UK in October. I’ve already bought my ticket through Denver Film and have a date with Frida all lined up.
Frida (2002), a film by Julie Taymor: Watch it on Netflix and enjoy a passionate performance from Salma Hayek that may just blow your art-loving socks off. Watching Hayek perform the tango with Ashley Judd is a scene worth putting on a loop.
Get the MoMA Hook-up
YouTube: MoMA HOW TO SEE | Surrealist Women Artists – MoMA reports that the Surrealist gallery is one of the most visited in the museum. Senior curator Anne Umland walks us through some highlights, to include Kahlo’s Self Portrait with Cropped Hair (1940).
YouTube: MoMA VIRTUAL VIEWS | Surrealist Women – This episode of Virtual Views is a live Q&A that addresses the HOW TO SEE video that was shot in the Surrealist gallery at MoMA. Umland, along with Broad City’s Abbi Jacobson, discuss the importance of the female artist in the Surrealist movement, and answer audience questions.
RABBIT HOLE OF ART PODCASTS
This only scratches the surface. Go straight to Spotify and dig a deeper hole.
The Art History Babes: Discussion and analysis of art history topics often fueled by alcohol.
Art Juice with Louise Fletcher and Alice Sheridan: A podcast for artists, aspiring creatives, and art lovers.
The MoMA Magazine Podcast: Passionate perspectives on art, artists, and ideas that shape culture today.
The Way I See It: Leading creative thinkers choose an artwork from the MoMA, and talk about how it inspires or provokes, thrills or suprises them.
The Art Angle: Directly from artnet News, this weekly show provides an in-depth on what matters most in museums, the market and much more.