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Exploring Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera's Relationship with the Soviet Union

  • Viva la Vida Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera - Installation view
  • Viva la Vida Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera - Installation view
December 25, 2018
Balasz Takac is alias of Vladimir Bjelicic who is actively engaged in art criticism, curatorial and artistic practice.

Much was written about one of the best known modernist pairs Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. Both of them produced highly innovative oeuvres so it can be said that they belong to the corpus of the leading practitioners of modernism. They had an intense yet lucrative relationship which was embedded in the same artistic and political standpoints.

The inclination to communism led the pair to establish ties with the former Soviet Union. The works Rivera produced while staying in Moscow, along with Kahlo’s outstanding self-portraits and personal documentation showing both artists are currently on display within the exhibition titled Viva La Vida: Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera at the Manezh Central Exhibition Hall in the Russian capital of Moscow.

Frida Kahlo - My wet nurse and me
Frida Kahlo – My wet nurse and me. 1937. Oil on metal, 30.5 x 35 cm; in the frame: 56 x 60 x 8.5 cm. Dolores Olmedo Museum

The Grand Retrospective

The curator Katarina Lopatkina decided to focus on the entirety of the opuses of Rivera and Kahlo, and their admiration for the USSR in order to show how interconnected the two artists were. Namely, they practically met through art, since Frida approached Diego to show him her first works.

Organized by The Link of Times Cultural and Historical Foundation and Fabergé Museum in St.Petersburg in collaboration with Moscow Department of Culture, the exhibition is featuring loaned works from the Dolores Olmedo Museum (Mexico), which holds world’s largest collection of paintings by Kahlo and Rivera, as well as other private collections and museums from Europe and Latin America.

Left Diego Rivera - Telegraph pole Right Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera on their wedding day
Left: Diego Rivera – Telegraph pole. 1916. Oil on canvas, 102 x 81 cm; in the frame: 125.4 x 106.5 x 8.2 cm. Dolores Olmedo Museum / Right: Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera on their wedding day on August 21, 1929. Photographer Victor Reyes.

The Exhibition Highlights

The selection of more than ninety works by both artists represents their artistic endeavors in the best possible manner, expressed through painting, drawing and printing. The artworks of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera will be contrasted with numerous photographs and documentaries about their lives and practices.

Kahlo’s surrealist paintings reveal the depth of her lifelong pain caused by the notorious accident she had at the age of seventeen. Along with her early work, the paintings such as Henry Ford Hospital (the subject of the loss of a child) from 1932, Self-portrait with Monkey from 1938 and The Broken Column from 1944 (a manifesto of her suffering), are on display.

On the other hand, various stages of Diego Rivera’s oeuvre are explored throughout the exhibition spanning from Post-impressionism and Cubism to Realism. His socially engaged works will be followed by the ones made during his visits to the USSR, the most significant being the monumental four-meter canvas Glorious Victory.

One of the features will be a story about Frida Kahlo’s lost canvas The Wounded Table from 1940 which was given by the artist to the Soviet Union in 1945 as part of a large gift by Mexican artists. The painting was lost during transportation to an exhibition in Poland in 1955 and its location remains unknown.

Unknown photographer - Diego Rivera on the terrace in the Blue House
Unknown photographer – Diego Rivera on the terrace in the Blue House. Coyoacan Mexico City, 1950.

Kahlo and Rivera Together in Moscow

This extensive survey is important in a broader social context since it shows the strength of art based connections during the interwar and post-war period. The narrative of Kahlo and Rivera is interwoven with passion, vibrant Mexican culture, outrageous fashion, and revolutionary manifestos.

A large-scale educational and cultural program conducted of curatorial lectures, film screenings, theater plays, and performances follows the exhibition, as well as an illustrated catalog with essays written by several scholars are contributing to this important exhibition.

Viva La Vida: Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera will be on display at Manezh Central Exhibition Hall in Moscow until 12 March 2019.

Featured images: Viva la Vida Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera – Installation view. Images are courtesy of The Link of Times Cultural and Historical Foundation and Fabergé Museum in St.Petersburg.