Mexico and Frida Kahlo are synonymous. Perhaps the most celebrated female painter of the 20th century in her works has always reflected the visual splendour , the colourful vibrancy of Mexican art and its aesthetic traditions . Her works and the subjects of the paintings she created, also mirror the tragic, even somewhat tormented history of this great Aztec nation, with its ancient pre-Colombian heritage and Spanish colonial mestizo
culture all bound into one seamless almost indistinguishable identity. Kahlo in this sense is Mexico personified. Just like almost all Mexicans, her own family background is also of mixed ethnic background. Frida Kahlo was born on July 6, 1907, the third of four daughters of Wilhelm Kahlo, a German Jew of Hungarian descent, and Matilde Calderon de Kahlo, a mestizo Mexican.
(a person born or who lives in Mexico city) artist has been described as being an " icon with star character: a forerunner of the feminist movement...an identification figure of Mexican culture". Her iconic images depict her own inner world composed of mysticism , sensuality, physical and emotional turmoil or unbearable pain. I was awestruck by this exhibit as was the person who accompanied me to this art "happening" . I was also most impressed with the venue, which is the Kunstforum
in Vienna; a magnificent setting for this type of a show. The museum is located in the central first district of the capital. The exhibition is really a retrospective of her life's work. The art show puts on display 150 of Kahlo's oeuvre. It is the most comprehensive collection of Kahlo's art-work ever put on display in Vienna, Austria. Incidentally the show originated and came from Berlin.
Having lived in Mexico for an extended period of time, I am quite familiar with the artist's paintings. But I have yet to see such an extensive and complete collection of her work, as the one I saw , assembled here under one roof, anywhere else. This exhibition contains and emphasises the artist's self-portraits, which may have been inspired by her portraitist-photographer father's profession. There are also many of her famous still life paintings of exotic fruits, with their exuberant and lush rainbow like hues, and sensual shapes and forms. There are also rare and perhaps not yet ever seen outside Mexico, photos of the painter, her lover, Diego Rivera, Leon Trotsky and her surrealist friend and maybe muse as well André Breton. It's said that Kahlo was uniquely able to incorporate two visual schools of thought into her paintings, namely: "New Objectivity" and Surrealism. Her works gravitate from one to the other, and she adeptly combined the two, by borrowing from each one, to create a new visual style, which became subsequently uniquely her own. It is maybe a cliche to say this, but Kahlo was a trailblazer in every sense of the word. She pioneered new figurative techniques and standards in her portrait paintings.
The visitor to this show is almost transfixed when looking at her face and then into the eyes of these self-portraits. Kahlo seems to peer back at you. Her penetrating stare has this haunting, almost piercing, quality to it. Her "authoritarian" glance is pained and yet powerful. These emotions are magically and mystically transmitted to the observer. It renders the viewer somewhat strangely vulnerable. He or she feels transparently exposed. One is disconcerted and captivated at the same time. This is the genius of Frida Kahlo. The entire exhibit also puts on display Kahlo's famous colorful and luxuriant dresses. They seem to be so life-like as if she were just wearing them minutes before. The dresses have an aspect of " temporary permanence" to them and convey the impression that maybe she wore them while painting, or posing for a famous photographer or perhaps even while engaged in a passionate embrace with her partner and mentor, the Mexican painter and muralist Diego Rivera.
The exhibit has inspired a kind of commercially driven "Fridafashion" in Vienna recently, among its more affluent and glamorous residents; a trend which maybe the Marxist painter wouldn't have approved of... The dresses, paintings, portraits and photos of the artist, have all revived a long gone era associated with flamboyance and eccentricity, which exemplified Kahlo's bohemian lifestyle. Her artistic flair lives on in a timeless manner and seems to have delighted, even entranced, the seemingly countless Austrian admirers of her art . The exhibit opened on September 1st and runs until December 5th.