Frida Kahlo’s Home Is Still Unlocking Secrets, 50 Years Later
Love for her style has inflated the standing of her art all out of proportion, and in recent decades it’s become an article of faith that Kahlo was a more important painter than her acclaimed husband, indeed one of the indisputable greats. This is — well, not true, sorry! In Brooklyn you’ll find some engrossing self-portraits, including MoMA’s severe “Self-Portrait With Cropped Hair,” but Kahlo also painted half-competent still lifes, gross Stalinist agitprop, and ghastly New Age kitsch — including this show’s “The Love Embrace of the Universe ...,” a world-spiritualist tableau featuring a lactating Mother Earth that would make Deepak Chopra blanch. I’d name many other Mexicans, men and women, who drew more productively on surrealist, folk and indigenous vocabularies to force a new art after the revolution, including Rivera, the wily modernist Dr. Atl, the Mexico-based Englishwoman Leonora Carrington and the ripe-for-rediscovery Alice Rahon.
Yet Kahlo was a pioneer in self-disclosure, a national advocate and an essential social connector, brokering introductions between Americans and Europeans and the local avant-garde. She posed constantly for the best photographers, including Tina Modotti, Carl Van Vechten, Imogen Cunningham and Edward Weston. Her real accomplishment, this show proposes, was a Duchampian extension of her art far beyond the easel, into her home, her fashion and her public relationships. Which makes her, for good and ill, a figure right for our time — and also complicates the easy opposition between her Communist convictions and today’s global Frida industry.
[Read more about how Frida Kahlo meticulously built her own image.]
Kahlo was born in 1907 in the Coyoacán neighborhood of Mexico City, in a newly built house called the Casa Azul. At 6, she contracted polio. At 18, a trolley car rammed into the bus she was riding; the accident shattered her spine and reduced her right leg to bits. Her father, Guillermo, a photographer who specialized in architectural documentation, took a formal, Europeanized portrait of her a few months after the accident, which appears in the first gallery here. She wears a long, dark silk dress and clasps a book in her hands; her hair is pulled back, her mien is stern. Her right leg, agonizing her, lies half-hidden.