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A revealing portrait of Frida Kahlo

A new exhibit visits Chicago through September 

FridaKahlo image
Frida Kahlo, Self-Portrait with Small Monkey, 1945, oil on masonite, Collection Museo Dolores Olmedo, Xochimilco, Mexico © 2020 Banco de México Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums Trust, Mexico, D.F. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York 

Frida Kahlo: Timeless , a lavish exhibit about the fabled Mexican artist- who has become something of a cult figure in recent decades-opened in June and will run through Sept. 6 at the Cleve Carney Museum of Art at the College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn. This rare event (just a 27-mile drive west of downtown Chicago) is not to be missed. 

In addition to showcasing 26 of the artist's remarkable paintings, this beautifully designed exhibit examines the many facets of Kahlo's life (1907-1954). It includes displays of richly revealing vintage photographs (some by her photographer father), detailed timelines, and a suggestion of the beauty of her adored home and garden, La Casa Azul (The Blue House), in Mexico City.  


The exhibit includes a room full of meticulously crafted replicas of the elaborate traditional Mexican outfits that became one of the artist's trademarks. Also displayed are replicas of the painted leather and plaster orthotic braces she wore throughout a life of extreme pain- including 30 surgeries- the result of a harrowing, near-fatal bus accident when she was 18. A bout of polio in childhood, as well as two devastating miscarriages, left additional physical and emotional scars. A replica of the beautiful four-poster bed in which Kahlo spent years recuperating also is on display; onto such a bed her parents attached an easel, enabling her to escape the agonies of a broken body by focusing on painting.  

Of course, it is those paintings and their remarkable imagery that are of the essence here. And while a good number of the works on display are familiar, it is the many rarely seen works that are a particularly eye-opening treat. Among them are a painting of ordinary passengers on a bus, the Botticelli-like Portrait of Alicia Galant, and the hybrid man-tree in Portrait of Luther Burbank, a likeness of the famous horticulturalist. Invariably, they suggest the artist's fabulous imagination and daring radiance, and her nod to magical realism. 

The works are on loan from the Dolores Olmeda Museum in Mexico City. Olmeda, a wealthy Mexican businesswoman and art collector, was a friend and fan of Diego Rivera, the famous Jewish muralist and larger-than-life figure who was Kahlo's great love and heartbreak- and the man she married, divorced, and remarried. (Along the way, both artists engaged in many affairs, including Kahlo's with Jewish revolutionary Leon Trotsky). Olmeda was no fan of Kahlo's, but when Rivera was near death, he sold Olmeda many of her paintings to protect her legacy with a museum.   

  
Although Kahlo's mother was a strict Catholic of mixed Spanish and Indian ancestry, her father was a European immigrant who some say was a Lutheran German- but Kahlo insisted was of Jewish origin. 


Justin Witte, the exhibit's art director and curator, explains: "While there is no definitive evidence, Frida Kahlo did maintain that her father was of Hungarian Jewish descent. Most likely this is why she was so outspoken in support of Jewish people and causes. This became evident when she and Diego were put up in a Detroit hotel [which] had an antisemitic policy… and Frida refused to stay there unless they changed that policy. She also famously brought up the subject of Henry Ford's antisemitism at a dinner hosted by Ford. So, I do believe Frida identified as having Jewish heritage." 

For tickets and additional information to "Frida Kahlo: Timeless," visit: Frida2021.org or phone (630) 942-4000.  

Hedy Weiss, a longtime Chicago arts critic, was the Theater and Dance Critic for the Chicago Sun-Times from 1984-2018; she currently writes for WTTW's website and contributes to the Chicago Tonight program.     



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