Frida Kahlo retrospective in Berlin uses photos, writings to reflect Mexican artist’s life

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Frida Kahlo retrospective opens in Berlin

BERLIN — A new retrospective of Frida Kahlo’s work uses photographs of the Mexican artist combined with examples of her writings and sketches to portray a complete picture of the painter as a person.

The exhibition, which opens Friday at the Martin-Gropius-Bau museum in Berlin and runs through Aug. 9, includes more than 150 drawings and paintings all drawn from major Mexican and several private art collections in Mexico and the U.S.

It includes the plaster corset that Kahlo painted and works from the last year of her life.

The paintings are enhanced by dozens of photographs — some well-known portraits from famous photographers, others from her family’s private collection. They are curated by Kahlo’s great-niece, Cristina Kahlo.

“If you see the photographs and you see the paintings, you have a whole idea about Frida’s life and work,” she said. “With the documents, you can understand much more the paintings.”

Born July 6, 1907, Kahlo had polio as a child and was crippled in a bus crash when she was 18. While bedridden, she started painting.

Kahlo underwent seven operations on her spine from 1950 to 1951. During that time, she developed a very close relationship with her doctor, writing in her diary that he “saved my life.”

As a gift of thanks, she painted “Self-portrait with Dr. Farill,” for him, showing herself sitting in a wheelchair, her palette in her lap and a portrait of the doctor resting on an easel behind her.

A photograph from the same year shows Kahlo together with her doctor in front of the portrait.

“It’s like seeing a double image. That’s something very interesting, to see the photographs, how a photographer makes an interpretation of the painting and the subject at the same time,” Cristina Kahlo said.

Kahlo died in 1954 at the age of 47 and only began to gain iconic status in the late 1970s.

She is best-known for her many self-portraits that she used to deal with the accident, her tumultuous marriage to muralist Diego Rivera and her inability to have children.

Her self-portrait, “The Broken Column,” depicts the artist’s spine as a crumbling Greek column held together by buckled straps and nails.

“I think it shows everything of Frida Kahlo: her broken body, the surrealism, the dry landscape that looks like a moon landscape, which depicts her inability to have children,” said Carlos-Phillip Olmedo, who loaned paintings to the museum for the exhibit.

“And then she’s crying, but the drops are not really coming out, they are kind of floating, which shows the strength she had.”

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