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A New Exhibition Will Unveil The Rocky Relationship Between Frida Kahlo And Diego Rivera

An exhibition on the esteemed Mexican artists, lovers, and icons Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera is coming to North Carolina. On October 26, the North Carolina Museum of Art will open the Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, and Mexican Modernism from the Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection. The anticipated exhibition will include paintings, drawings, photography and film that aims to capture the 20th century artists’ bodies of work as well as their friendships and conflicts with political figures and their own impassioned and tumultuous personal relationships.

“Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, and Mexican Modernism from the Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection will emphasize a remarkable chapter in art history that is at once Mexican and global,” museum director Valerie Hillings told the ArtfixDaily, a publication covering curated art news.

Today, their tempestuous relationship is as famous as some of the artists’ most popular works. 

fridakahlo / Instagram

Kahlo and Rivera met in June 1928 at a party thrown by photographer Tina Modotti. At the time, a young, bold Kahlo asked Rivera to look at her paintings to see if he thought that she had enough talent to succeed. Rivera, impressed by her work, later spoke about that encounter, saying, “It was obvious to me that this girl was an authentic artist.” The pair soon started a relationship, though Rivera was 20 years older than Kahlo and already had two common-law wives. It was the start to a messy, atypical romance.

Marrying at a civil ceremony at the town hall of Coyoacán in 1929, despite the disapproval of Kahlo’s mother, their marriage included immense heartbreak. 

fridakahlo / Instagram

Over the years, the couple experienced and fought over everything from failed abortions and miscarriages to ailing physical health, to extra-marital affairs, including same-gender relationships from the gender-bending Kahlo. In 1939, the couple even divorced, only to remarry a year later with little change in their passionate yet rocky affair. Aside from the infidelity, rage, and distress that brewed in their personal relationship, the pair was often also at odds with political leaders as well. As communists, the revolutionary nature of Rivera’s murals, as well as Kahlo’s self-portraits and party affiliations, often put them at odds with political and religious leaders.

“Diego Rivera’s personality, politics, and monumental, social realist murals made him a celebrity during his lifetime. While he once overshadowed his equally talented wife, Frida Kahlo’s fame has far outstripped her husband’s in the years since her death,” Hillings added.

The pieces presented at the exhibition come from the long-time collection of Jacques and Natasha Gelman. According to ArtfixDaily, the Gelmans became Mexican citizens in 1942 and at the time started amassing Mexican art. Their collection includes Mexican modernists, like Kahlo and Rivera, who became friends with the Gelmans, as well as their compatriots Rufino Tamayo, David Alfaro Siqueiros and more. 

The exhibition was organized by the Vergel Foundation and MondoMostre in collaboration with the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes y Literatura (INBAL). It is a joint project between the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources; the North Carolina Museum of Art Foundation, Inc.; and the William R. Kenan Jr. Endowment for Educational Exhibitions. It includes research from the Ann and Jim Goodnight/The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Fund for Curatorial and Conservation Research and Travel.

The North Carolina Museum of Art is presenting the exhibition alongside the Luces y Sombras: Images of Mexico | Photographs from the Bank of America Collection. 

Together, the fall exhibitions “celebrate these artists’ culture of origin as well as the diverse sources of influence they drew upon in creating their distinctive oeuvres,” Hillings said.

While the museum is commemorating the famed Mexican couple, not everyone is excited about the pair’s legacy. The fall exhibition comes weeks after the new U.S. ambassador to Mexico Christopher Landau criticized Kahlo for her support of Marxism, stirring controversy on social media. The ambassador, who was appointed by President Donald Trump and sworn in last month, took to Twitter last week after visiting the late Kahlo’s home, La Casa Azul, in Mexico City.

“I admire her free and bohemian spirit, and she rightly became an icon of Mexico around the whole world. What I do not understand is her obvious passion for Marxism, Leninism, Stalinism. Didn’t she know about the horrors committed in the name of that ideology?” he wrote in Spanish. 

His comments immediately drew backlash from thousands of people.

fridakahlo / Instagram

Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, and Mexican Modernism from the Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection runs at the North Carolina Museum of Art through January 19, 2020. To recognize the native language and cultural heritage of the artists in the exhibition, gallery information will be provided in both English and Spanish.

Tickets are already available for members but will be sold to nonmembers starting on September 17. 

Read: US Ambassador Insults Mexican Icon Frida Kahlo And Mexicans Clapped Back

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