Sunday, January 20, 2019

Diego and Frida at the Mexican Cultural Institute

During their 25 years together, painters Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera epitomized an operatic bohemian lifestyle that made most other artists' lives seem tame. As Rivera became the world's most famous, and perhaps most controversial, muralist, Frida Kahlo was largely overshadowed despite her exhibitions in New York and Paris. But times change, and while Rivera remains a legend, Kahlo has, since her rediscovery by the public in the 1980s, become a pop icon. Today, fueled partly by the 2002 biopic “Frida” starring Salma Hayek, her cult status has spawned Frida-themed cafes and restaurants, lip gloss, t-shirts, even emojis and jewelry – British prime minister Theresa May was recently seen wearing a Frida bracelet. Her complex identity as a bisexual German-Mexican mestiza and advocate for indigenous peoples fueled her diverse appeal, but it was her marriage to Rivera and their countless breakups, betrayals and reconciliations that cause these photographs to suggest scenes from a strange and colorful movie where even restrained moments crackle with unspoken drama.  

Many of these over three dozen images are unattributed although some are by known photographers such as Manuel Álvarez Bravo, Nickolas Murray and others. They offer a variety of views of one of the art world's most famous couples including one of them kissing by Nickolas Murray (pictured) or Frida painting as Diego looks on, by Bernard Silverstein, or else casually posing with a pet monkey or marching in a political protest.

Their complex relationship is well known, but their ties to Nola are not. In 1928, the Times-Picayune declared Rivera North America's "greatest painter” as local artists including Caroline Durieux, Conrad Albrizio and William Spratling interacted with him and his peers in Mexico, ushering an era of close relations documented in Katie Pfohl's 2015 book, “Mexico in New Orleans: A Tale of Two Americas.” Later, in the late 1970s, a circle of local artists including Jacqueline Bishop, Douglas Bourgeois and Ecuadoran expat George Febres pioneered the Visionary Imagist movement that presaged the Frida Kahlo magic realist revival. “A Halfway Smile” is the Mexican Cultural Institute's striking contribution to this season's PhotoNola celebration. ~ Bookhardt / A Halfway Smile: Photographs of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, Through Feb 15, Mexican Cultural Institute, 119 Diamond St., 581-5868.