Tate Modern Level 4 West
9 June – 9 October 2005
The first major exhibition in over twenty years devoted to the work of the celebrated Mexican artist Frida Kahlo (1907 -1954) will open at Tate Modern in June 2005. The exhibition is sponsored by HSBC, who are sponsoring a major arts project for the first time. Frida Kahlo is now regarded as one of the most influential and important artists of the twentieth century. She lived and worked during a time of incredible social and cultural upheaval in Mexico. Featuring more than seventy pieces, including many iconic oil paintings, as well as some lesser known early watercolours, drawings and oils, the exhibition will enable a comprehensive investigation of her artistic career.
Kahlo began painting after a serious traffic accident in her late teens led to frequent hospital visits and surgery. Her complex works combine profoundly personal subject matter with references to medical and anatomical imagery as well as Aztec, Colonial, and Mexican popular and folkloric arts and crafts. Broadly chronological in form, the exhibition will examine how Kahlo exploited the history and traditions of painting including still life, portraiture, narrative and religious paintings and subverted these for her own ends, infusing them with powerful political insight, humour and candid self-analysis.
Drawing from key international collections, this is the first exhibition in this country ever to be dedicated solely to the work of the artist. It explores her contribution to the art of self-portraiture and includes Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera 1931, a marriage portrait that graphically depicts the dominant human relationship in her life, and which also reveals her interest in naïve popular painting; The Little Deer, 1946 which depicts her as a wounded stag in a forest; and Self- Portrait with Monkey 1938. The centrepiece of the exhibition is The Two Fridas 1939, one of her largest and most ambitious canvases. Combining surrealist tendencies with acute anatomical and psychological insight, it depicts a doubled self, one European, the other Mexican, one loved, the other unloved. These works demonstrate a remarkable richness of detail and symbol, as well as hinting at the pain behind Kahlo’s unsmiling mask of a face.
At the centre of an artistic and political elite, due to her marriage to the celebrated Mexican muralist Diego Rivera, Kahlo’s life was packed with incident. Through her use of distinctive dress and jewellery, Kahlo created a very specific public identity for herself, oscillating between mannish and elaborately feminine Mexican attire. Amongst her many friends and associates were Nelson Rockefeller, Sergei Eisenstein, Paulette Goddard, André Breton, Dolores del Rio and Georgia O’Keeffe. The exhibition contains many portraits of those in Kahlo’s close circle of friends, such as the ambitious early work Portrait of Miguel N. Lira, 1927 which betrays numerous influences from Cubism to symbolism to Art Nouveau. A life-long Communist sympathiser, Kahlo gave shelter to the exiled Leon Trotsky, whom she also counted among her many lovers.
The exhibition contains several less well known works, thereby giving a fuller picture of Kahlo’s output and world view. Influenced by Eastern religions in the latter part of her life, she used the still life to express the very nature of creation itself. Sun and Life, 1947, is a meditation on fecundity and sexual energy while Moses, 1945, is a remarkable synthesis of imagery and symbols from world religions, history, and human reproduction.
Frida Kahlo is curated by Emma Dexter, Curator at Tate Modern and Tanya Barson, Curator at Tate Liverpool. It will be accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue. HSBC are also sponsoring an exhibition of the work of Henry Moore, curated by Tate, which will run concurrently at the Dolores Olmeda Patiño Museum in Mexico City.