Woman, Earth, Politics, Pain - 7 Highlights from the Historic Frida Kahlo Exhibition in Milan
The life of Frida Kahlo has become as iconic as her work, since her personal experience served as the greatest source of inspiration throughout her entire oeuvre. She frequently painted significant moments in her life and the deep emotions associated with them.
The current exhibition at the Museum of Culture (Museo delle Culture) in Milan unites more than 100 artworks from the Dolores Olmedo Museum of Mexico City and from the Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection – for the first time in one venue. Titled Frida Kahlo. Beyond the Myth, the show proposes to define a new interpretation of the figure of the artist as a result of six years of research and studies.
Frida Kahlo Exhibition in Milan
As the curator explained, “the legend that has been created around the life of the artist only helped to obscure the knowledge of her poetics” and “the artwork itself has been almost replaced by her personal life story”. This exposition aims to go beyond the limits of a biography and go over that consolidated myth. The exhibition, open until June 3rd, 2018, will be accompanied by the recording of the unreleased and astounding archives material that came to light in 2007 from the archives found in Casa Azul.
Let’s take a look at 7 Frida Kahlo paintings from this extensive and remarkable exhibition.
Featured images: Frida Kahlo. Beyond the myth, Installation view. Images by Carlota Coppo. All images courtesy Mudec.
The Broken Column, 1944
A constant theme throughout Frida Kahlo’s oeuvre, pain and suffering are expressed in this painting in a most straightforward and horrifying way. The Broken Column was painted shortly after Frida had undergone a surgery on her spinal column that left her bedridden and “enclosed” in a metallic corset. The artist is depicted with nails stuck in her face and whole body and a split in the torso that resembles an earthquake fissure. In the place of her spine, the artist painted a broken column on the verge of collapsing.
Although her body is hurt, her posture demonstrates her strength and conveys a message of spiritual triumph. Looking straight ahead, she challenges both herself and the viewer to face her situation.
Featured image: Frida Kahlo – The Broken Column, 1944. Oil painting on canvas, 39.8 x 30.5 cm. Museo Dolores Olmedo © Photo Erik Meza / Xavier Otaola © Archivo Museo Dolores Olmedo © Banco de México Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums Trust, México, D.F. by SIAE 2018
The Self-Portrait from 1940 was painted after Frida’s divorce from Diego Rivera and the end of her affair with photographer Nickolas Muray. Imbued with a variety of symbolic aspects, the painting shows the artist set against the background of a lush, but suffocatingly dense jungle. The emphasis is placed on her face, while a thorn necklace strangles her throat. It seems as if she is enduring the pain patiently.
Several symbolic creatures are included in the picture. A hummingbird, that often symbolizes freedom and life, is painted black and lifeless, probably standing as a symbol of the artist herself. Meanwhile, the black panther is symbolic of bad luck and death and the monkey is a symbol of evil. This is another painting of the suffering she endured as a result of a bus accident that happened when she was eighteen.
Featured image: Frida Kahlo – Self-Portrait, 1940. Oil on aluminum, 63.5 x 49.5 cm. Harry Ransom Center – The University of Texas, Austin © Banco de México Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums Trust, México, D.F. by SIAE 2018
The Suicide of Dorothy Hale, 1938
Dorothy Hale was an artists’ muse, a failed actress and tabloid darling. After her husband was killed in a car accident, she was left lonely and in severe financial trouble. She committed suicide on October 21st, 1938 by jumping off from the top window of her luxury apartment suite in New York in her favorite black dress with a corsage of small yellow roses.
Almost immediately, Clare Boothe Luce, Dorothy’s close friend and a fan of Frida, commisioned the artist to paint a remembrance portrait of the late friend that she planned on giving to Dorothy’s mother. When the finished painting arrived, Luce was in complete shock. Initially, she wanted to destroy the portrait, but her friends convinced her not to.
This is certainly one of the most controversial paintings by Frida, depicting all the phases of Hale’s suicide. At the time, Frida was contemplating suicide herself, as she had recently separated from Diego.
Featured image: Frida Kahlo – The suicide of Dorothy Hale, 1938-39. Oil on masonite, with s painted frame, 59.7 x 49.5 cm. Phoenix Art Museum, Inv. No. 1960.20, Gift of an anonymous donor; Collection of Phoenix Art Museum © Banco de México Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums Trust, Mexico, D.F. by SIAE 2018
Still Life (Dedicated to Samuel Fastlicht), 1951
The painting Still Life (Dedicated to Samuel Fastlicht) from 1951 is one of two still-life works that Frida Kahlo painted for her dentist and personal friend Dr. Samuel Fastlicht. The two paintings were a compensation for some dental work that Fastlicht had performed on Frida.
The inscription on the flag reads: “I belong to Samuel Fastlicht. I was painted with great affection by Frida Kahlo in 1951. Coyoacán.”
Featured image: Frida Kahlo – Still Life (Dedicated to Samuel Fastlicht), 1951. Oil on Masonite, 28.6 x 35.9 cm, 53 x 61 x 3.5 cm. Galeria Arvil – USA © Banco de México Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums Trust, México, D.F. by SIAE 2018
Henry Ford Hospital, 1932
In 1932, Frida Kahlo had a miscarriage in Detroit. Several days after the abortion, she asked to bring her a fetus of her child so she could paint it. Although her wish wasn’t granted, she based her work on illustrations provided by Diego and her doctors. In this painting, Frida depicts herself in Henry Ford Hospital, lying on bed naked with blood and hemorrhage.
Six motifs are attached to Kahlo’s body with umbilical cords. The snail represents the slowness of the abortion, as she described it. Other motifs include a fetus of her miscarried child, an orthopedic cast of a pelvic zone that refers to her spinal injury, a medical machine, an orchid which Diego gave her which resembles a uterus, as well as a pelvic bone. Frida is depicted physically small with tears running down her eyes.
Featured image: Frida Kahlo – Henry Ford Hospital, 1932. Oil on metal, 31 x 38.5, 55.5×63.5×8.2 cm. Museo Dolores Olmedo © Photo Erik Meza / Xavier Otaola – © Archivo Museo Dolores Olmedo © Banco de México Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums Trust, México, D.F. by SIAE 2018
Diego on My Mind (Self-Portrait as Tehuana), 1943
Frida Kahlo started working on this painting in 1940 when she divorced Diego Rivera; however she did not finish it until 1943. The painting expresses her desire to own her ex-husband who betrayed her with a number of infidelities. A miniature portrait of him on her forehead symbolizes her obsessive love for him.
The dress she is depicted in is a traditional Tehuana costume, which Diego greatly admired. The roots of the leaves which she wears in her hair suggest the pattern of a spider’s web in which she seeks to trap her ex-lover. The portrait is also known under the title Thinking of Diego.
Featured image: Frida Kahlo – Diego on My Mind (Self-Portrait as Tehuana), 1943. Oil on Masonite, 76 x 61 cm, 97 x 81 x 8 cm. The Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection of the 20th Century Mexican Art and The Vergel Foundation © Gerardo Suter © Banco de México Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums Trust, México, D.F. by SIAE 2018
The Love Embrace of the Universe, the Earth (Mexico), Myself, Diego, and Señor Xolotl, 1949
Frida once said of her husband, Diego: “Women – among them I – always would want to hold him in their arms like a new-born baby.” This maternal role she has adopted towards him was the result of her inability to have children. This self-portrait is imbued with many elements from ancient Mexican mythology, including binaries of day and night which permeate each other, the sun and the moon, as well as the earth goddess Cihuacoatl who gives birth to all flora.
Frida is depicted as a nurturing figure, while Diego has the third eye of wisdom on his forehead, making them interdependent. With a series of love embraces, Frida has created a vast interlocking pyramid of love. The painting celebrates the final resolution of their marriage.
Featured image: Frida Kahlo – The Love Embrace of the Universe, the Earth (Mexico), Myself, Diego, and Señor Xolotl, 1949. Oil on Masonite, 70 x 60.5 cms, 79 x 69 x 6.5. The Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection of the 20th Century Mexican Art and The Vergel Foundation © Gerardo Suter © Banco de México Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums Trust, México, D.F. by SIAE 2018