Parisians have a long-awaited rendezvous Wednesday with Mexico’s arguably most influential painters, Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, as the Orangerie Museum unveils an exhibition devoted to the life and careers of the legendary artists and lovers.
The artists’ names – especially Frida’s – smack with familiarity, but their work remains largely unseen or relatively unknown in France.
“Kahlo has claimed the status of a feminist icon, through her own biography and a movie, but there are almost no paintings of her in the whole of Europe's museums,” curator and museum director Marie-Paule Vial told FRANCE 24. No exhibition dedicated to Kahlo's work has been presented in France in over 15 years.
The exhibition at the Musée de l'Orangerie includes rare images of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, such as this Nickolas Muray photo taken in the couple's home around 1940.Photo by Nickolas Muray © Nickolas Muray Photo Archive
Rivera is considered a giant in his native Mexico and throughout Latin America. But fame has eluded him outside the Spanish-speaking world, even while his huge mural paintings have gone a long way toward shaping the image and stereotypes of Mexico that are so prevalent around the planet.
The new show in the Orangerie, known mostly for its collection of French impressionist Claude Monet’s water lilies, invites visitors to rediscover the artist couple through some of their more important works, but also a unique collection of photos and videos of their passionate –and often tormented – romance.
The show is organised around four rooms, the first focusing solely on Rivera and his often overlooked formative years in Europe. Here it is easy to mistake the Mexican’s paint brush for those of Pablo Picasso, Paul Cézanne or Georges Braque.
A second space seeks to document and recreate life at La Casa Azul, the couple’s home in Mexico City’s Coyoacán neighbourhood. During the pair’s lifetime the house was a magnet for international artists, intellectuals, and left-wing political activists – as is made evident by portraits by photographer Nickolas Muray and sketches by French artist Dora Maar that also bring the expo to life.
A final rectangular hall hosts a wide, but far from exhaustive, collection from both Rivera and Kahlo. But the heart of the Paris exhibit is undoubtedly a smaller chamber within this space, which is consecrated entirely to Frida’s most intimate self-portraits of suffering, including the famous Broken Column.
The museum’s intimate close-up on Kahlo highlights a fact that would shock most Mexicans: Frida has eclipsed Diego in interest and important among Europeans – even if he was the established master who took her in; even if his prolific career stands in contrast to her fairly limited production.
“It’s a personal myth she knowingly helped orchestrate. We can see it in the way she poses and stages herself,” Orangerie’s Vial said in reference to the “Fridamania” that continues to grip Europe. “It’s a kind of like [Frida's] sweet revenge.”
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