Frida & Diego: Passion, politics and painting at the AGO

Sunday, December 2nd, 2012. Filed under: Art

On now at the Art Gallery of Ontario, Frida & Diego: Passion, Politics and Painting is a rare opportunity to see work by the 20th century’s most legendary artist couple exhibited side by side.

Self-Portrait with Monkeys (1943), Frida Kahlo. Gelman Collection.

The AGO show includes more than 80 works on paper and paintings by Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera as well as more than 60 photographs. The show is organized chronologically, placing their careers  in historical context, documenting their tumultuous marriage, passion for Marxist politics and Mexico’s revolutionary culture.

Mexico City in the 1930s was the epicentre of the international art world (after Paris but before Abstract Expressionism moved it to New York). At the epicentre of the epicentre, the grand opera of Frida and Diego played out against the backdrop of a transformative era and the colour and grandeur of Mexico.

Diego Rivera (1886-1957) was already an acclaimed artist when he married Frida Kahlo in 1929. Academically trained, he had spent more than a decade in Europe immersed in avant-garde Parisian circles that included Picasso and Modigliani. Returning to Mexico City, Rivera became a major player in the country’s cultural renaissance, commissioned by the post-revolutionary government to produce public art.  Drawing on his studies of Italian Renaissance frescoes, Pre-Columbian art and Soviet propaganda to produce mural cycles idealizing indigenous people and revolutionaries, Rivera achieved heroic status in Mexico and was for a time the third most-famous artist in the world after Picasso and Matisse. Though many outside Mexico today know Rivera only as Frida Kahlo’s much older, much womanizing husband, the AGO show reintroduces a new generation to his work and reminds us of his importance.

Reproduction of En el Arsenal (1928) mural by Diego Rivera depicting Frida Kahlo distributing arms to the people of Mexico. Original is part of fresco series at the Ministry of Education, Mexico City.

Calla Lily Vendor (1943), Diego Rivera. Gelman Collection.

Frida Kahlo (1907-1954) was a very bright student, one of only 35 female pupils out of 2000 at Mexico’s best educational institution, the National Preparatory School. A horrific bus accident at 18 shattered her spine and pelvis and derailed her intended career as a doctor, making her instead a lifelong medical patient. Bedridden for long periods of time, often immobilized in body casts, Frida took up painting, mostly self-portraits that explored her identity and inner world. Sixty years after her death at age 47, paintings by Frida Kahlo still glow like jewels, testimony to her painstaking technique and scrupulous brush care.

Self-Portrait as a Tehuana (Diego in my thoughts), 1943, Frida Kahlo. Gelman Collection.  Diego Rivera likened Frida’s famous unibrow to the glossy wings of a blackbird.

A year after I saw Frida’s work displayed alongside that of Emily Carr and Georgia O’Keeffe at the McMichael Collection, the movie Frida (2002) was released. Snowballing attention, fueled by Hayden Herrera’s definitive biography, helped vault Frida to cult status. Today she is celebrated not only for her oeuvre but for her zest for life and as a symbol of the creative spirit thriving despite physical and psychological pain.

The Love Embrace (1949), Frida Kahlo. Gelman Collection. Embraced by the Surrealists, Frida insisted that she painted her reality.

Frida & Diego: Passion, Politics and Painting is on at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto until January 20, 2013. Ticketing for the show is in addition to general AGO admission. The general admission fee can be saved by using your Toronto Public Library card to obtain a MAP pass at Toronto library branches, or by attending the AGO on Wednesday nights when general admission is free. In celebration of the show, Frank Restaurant at the AGO is offering a series of Mexican-inspired prix-fixe menus as well as a special drinks menu featuring new and classic margaritas. For dining and exhibition packages, ticket information and more, see the Art Gallery of Ontario.

Another of my favorite food options nearby: Mission Burrito (109 McCaul, in the Grange food court facing the Ontario College of Art and Design and the west side of the AGO) serves fresh Mexican-style burritos and Mexican sodas.

Day of the Dead Christmas tree ornaments,  Art Gallery of Ontario shop.


Mexico Tourism invites you to experience one of the world’s great cultural destinations and the world of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. Most of the sites associated with the artists are located in or near Mexico City: La Casa Azul (Frida Kahlo Museum) in Coyoacán, Dolores Olmedo Museum, Diego Rivera’s Studio, major sites of Rivera’s mural commissions and more.

For independent travelers, Mexico Boutique Hotels offers curated accommodation reflecting Mexico’s past and cultural treasures.

Total Vacations offers a five-day Treasures of Frida and Diego Tour year-round. For details, email or call toll-free 1-800-769-4147.

Frida for the holidays at the Art Gallery of Ontario shop, Toronto.

Now on at the Frida Kahlo Museum in Mexico City, an exhibition of style icon Frida Kahlo’s clothing and jewelry. Appearances Can Be Deceiving: The Dresses of Frida Kahlo explores the late artist’s relationship with and influence on fashion. The 22 items on display still bore flecks of paint and the faint scent of the artist’s cigarettes and perfume when curatorial staff pulled them from cupboards at the Casa Azul, the artist’s home, now the Frida Kahlo Museum. The exhibit is copresented by Vogue Mexico and the artist is featured on the cover of their November 2012 issue.

Frida Kahlo on cover of Vogue Mexico, November 2012 issue. The Vogue Mexico website has a series of articles on Frida.



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