“I have suffered two serious accidents in my life,” Frida Kahlo once said to a friend, “One in which a streetcar ran over me … The other accident is Diego.”
The story of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera’s obsessive relationship has been much told and only adds to the legend of Mexico’s most famous artists.
The Art Gallery of NSW’s latest blockbuster exhibition: Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera are 33 masterful artworks from the world-renowned collection of Jacques and Natasha Gelman. The collection also includes an selection of insightful photographs of Mexico’s most famous artists.
Jacques Gelman, a Russian-born film producer, and Natasha, his Czechoslovakian-born wife, became Mexican citizens in 1942. Over the next five decades, the Gelmans were the patrons of many internationally renowned Mexican artists. They established friendships with and collected art by such icons of Mexican modernism as Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros, Rufino Tamayo, and Gunther Gerzso, among others.
Known in Mexico as ‘la heroina de dolor’ (the heroine of pain) Frida Kahlo is nearly as beloved as Mexico’s patron saint, Our Lady of Guadalupe. Diego Rivera is best known for creating massive murals usually depicting the heroic struggle of workers. He most famously painted Man at the Crossroads at the Rockefeller Centre. Once Rivera added Lenin to the alfresco it was considered ‘anti-capitalist’ and ultimately destroyed. As he had photographed it extensively, he later re-created the work at Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City and renamed Man, Controller of the Universe.
Although their styles were radically different, Kahlo and Rivera were similarly captivated by the potential of painting to explore the human condition.
Kahlo mostly explored her own thoughts through a series of self-portraits that conveyed her isolation caused by medical complications arising from un-diagnosed polio at age seven that ultimately twisted her spine to her horrific injuries sustained from a catastrophic bus accident.
Although Rivera is remembered for his monumental murals, this exhibition features a number of his smaller, more intimate works. For his 1943 ‘Portrait of Natasha Gelman’, he provocatively portrayed his benefactor as ‘seductress’, framed with white calla lillies on a green velvet sofa’. Kahlo’s ‘Diego on my mind’ (Self-portrait as Tehuana) was painted during the couple’s divorce and goes a long way to explaining their obsessive relationship.
The Gelman collection is, in and of itself, a work of art. It is also a work in progress. Owing to the enthusiasm they felt for Mexican art, the Gelmans desired that their collection be kept up to date. Works by significant contemporary artists have recently entered the Gelman Collection.
The photography includes works by Edward Weston, Lola Alvarez Bravo and Frida’s father, Guillermo Kahlo and Nickolas Muray. Kahlo and Muray had an ‘on-again, off-again’ affair for over 10 years and these portraits of the artist highlight the photographer’s fascination with his subject.
Frida and Diego: from the Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection – until October 9, 2016. http://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/