Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera: from the Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection

Together they formed a legendary partnership, with a strong attachment to Mexican folk art, a deep commitment to political struggle, and a raging artistic ambition that survived the trials of their tumultuous marriage. They were Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera.

The Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW) presents ‘Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera: from the Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection’, an exhibition exploring the lives and art of two of the most influential and engaging artists of the 20th century. ‘Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera’, the first in-depth exhibition of the artists in Australia in over fifteen years, will showcase more than thirty artworks including Kahlo’s, Diego on my mind (1943) and Self-portrait with monkeys (1943), as well as major examples of Diego Rivera’s canvas paintings.

Forty-nine photographs, taken by the renowned photographers Edward Weston, Nikolas Muray, Hector Garcia Cobo, and Kahlo’s father, Guillermo Kahlo, will illustrate the artists’ lives from 1911 through to the 1950s. Accompanying the photos are letters, along with translations of Kahlo’s personal correspondence with her mother, father and Rivera, and film footage of the artists in Mexico.

Nicholas Chambers, coordinating curator and AGNSW Senior Curator Modern and Contemporary International Art says the exhibition highlights the manner in which Kahlo and Rivera’s stylistically and conceptually divergent approaches to painting are able to reflect on common themes, from the dramatic story of their relationship to their shared investment in the cultural life of Mexico. Both their works are strongly embedded in political convictions but Kahlo’s was less national, taking on a more autobiographical focus. “Rivera’s work is very much concerned with the construction of a new national identity in post-revolutionary Mexico. Kahlo deals with similar themes but she does so through an exploration of her own personal identity. I think one could even borrow a term from second-wave feminism by saying that Kahlo’s work embodies the idea that the personal can be political.”

“There’s a thematic approach that we’ve taken to putting the show together and overlaid on top of that is a loose chronological progression,” Chambers says. “One of the things I’m particularly excited about seeing is Belqis Yousoffzay’s exhibition design which leads visitors in single direction but uses vertical apertures between the walls to construct lines of sight between works that might be physically located in different sections of the exhibition. I think visitors will find it quite a surprising use of the space.”
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The exhibition concludes with Kahlo’s The Love Embrace of the Universe, the Earth (Mexico), Diego, Me, and Senor Xolotl (1949), a self-portrait that celebrates the final resolution of the their marriage. Here Kahlo is the earth mother holding Diego as a young, defenceless child. Their union sustained by a series of love embraces that roots them in the Mexican earth and in the ancient dark/light duality of a pre-Columbian universe. “It’s a really fascinating image because it’s an artwork that comments on the artists’ relationship and a certain inversion of it when one compares this moment in 1949 with the beginning of their marriage. It’s also a painting that brings together different belief systems that in different ways impacted upon Kahlo’s thinking about art – Aztec imagery, Hindu imagery, and Christian iconography are all brought together within Kahlo’s unique world view,”says Chambers.

For a quarter of a century Kahlo and Rivera had a passionate and tempestuous relationship, but their support of each other’s art endured. A union described, by her parents, as a ‘marriage between an elephant and a dove’, Kahlo and Rivera defied convention remaining a compelling force in the art world.

Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW)
25 June to 9 October, 2016
Sydney