The Art Gallery of Ontario has been home to the exhibit Frida & Diego since October, and will continue to do so until 20 January. The exhibit features the Passion, Politics and Painting of two revolutionaries in Mexico who shared a torrid and well documented relationship in the early twentieth century.
Diego Rivera is most well known for his large-scale works; he was commissioned to paint several murals throughout his life. He focused his art mostly on social commentary of both Mexico and the United States, both places that he lived in for many years. Rivera’s style moved notably from Picasso-esque cubism during his early years into the colourful post-impressionism that he is famous for. The exhibit opens with a room full of Diego’s earliest works.
As the viewer enters the next room of the gallery they are introduced to Frida. She is painted as the subject of a large mural portraying the distribution of arms to Mexican revolutionaries. It is clear that she is the centre of the painting and quickly becoming the centre of his life. Frida Kahlo was a force to be reckoned with. It is obvious in her upright posture and unwavering gaze. Anyone can see how Diego, especially being an artist, was enchanted. She was a masterpiece.
At the age of eighteen Frida was impaled by a handrail. I’ve always thought that physical pain could be overcome. Whether it was a scraped knee or a shattered pelvis, the only difference I saw was the time of recovery. But looking at Kahlo’s paintings I realized that I was wrong. A bus accident crumpled her body as if she was just a sheet of paper and she was never quite un-crumpled. She learned to paint while recovering in the hospital and created several self-portraits using a mirror positioned over her bed.
It is self-portraits like these that Frida is acclaimed for. She painted herself as she saw herself, without glossing over or ignoring any flaws or pain. Her use of bright colour schemes and fondness for flowers does not lessen the suffering in her painted stare. The exhibit moves abruptly into Frida’s darkest works as she struggled with her health and infertility. This room is filled with the faces of many crying Kahlo’s.
After the development of both artists has been explored, the exhibit further examines the dark nature of Frida’s art by juxtaposing it against Diego’s. Paintings of similar subject matter are hung side by side demonstrating the differences in style between the two painters. For example, there are two paintings featuring dolls: Frida’s Me and My Doll and Diego’s Sunflowers. The messages of the two works are starkly different. Me and My Doll is a sorrowful acknowledgement of Frida’s infertility whereas Sunflowers depicts young children at play.
From this point on, the paintings of both artists are co-mingled with photographs of the couple and footage projected onto the wall. The focus shifts from the painters as individuals to their relationship as a couple. Frida and Diego married, divorced, and remarried, all the while taking lovers on the side. And yet, what their relationship lacked in monogamy was made up for in passion. The two were undeniably in love.
The exhibit ends on a sombre note with photographs of Frida leading up to her death and her funeral in 1954. Three years later Diego followed in 1957. The lives of these painters were so large in a way that is difficult to comprehend. Standing in front of their art and walking through galleries filled with their pictures makes you feel something that you can’t quite put your finger on. It’s something that I am still feeling now. I feel as if I’ve met Frida, as if she’s given me a firm handshake and smiled hello. I’ve hugged Diego, been embraced in his lumbering grip. I’ve looked into their heads and understood the world through their eyes. If that is not the mark of a great exhibit, then I’m not sure what is.