Frida Kahlo: Appearances Can Be Deceiving @ de Young museum, San Francisco
Are you going to see the Frida show? Amid the buzz about museums finally opening, that was the question—and no one had to ask "Frida who?" Seriously, how many artists are referred to by their first name, and with such affection? Ticket holders waited patiently in the distanced line, and even more patiently once inside in order to closely examine the family photographs that open Frida Kahlo: Appearances Can Be Deceiving, currently showing at San Francisco’s de Young museum.
Like being welcomed into a friend’s home for the first time, the photos reveal so many facets of a woman who was both sphinx and spirit. Kahlo, demure in long dress and veil, poses like a postulant at first communion. As a teenager she appears in a man’s suit, hair tight pulled back in a chignon for a family portrait. All the while she was learning camera techniques from her father Guillermo, a professional photographer, with whom she shared a visual aesthetic; and though the Catholic church was too restrictive, its searing iconography branded her persona, as seen in numerous self-portraits. A look into La Casa Azul, the Blue House reveals her life-long home and abiding tribute to Mexicanidad, an enthusiasm she shared with her husband, Diego Rivera. Artifacts and accessories from the home which functioned as her studio, add real flavor to the experience of viewing the 34 paintings and drawings on display in the show.
Of course, it was no surprise to share the viewing with two young women dressed in homage to Frida, who shopped the flea markets of Mexico City for fabrics which she had made into huipils, the loose fitting tunics adorned in ribbon, lace and embroidery. While the dresses helped camouflage the prosthetic boots and corset required to straighten her spine, she wore them as a political statement of loyalty to the indgenus culture. It’s fun to admire the display of colorful, embellished and layered outfits and imagine Friday putting the fantasies together. And what’s clothing without jewelry? There was lots of peering into glass at these pieces!
Ah, Frida and Diego. It’s hard to separate them from the art. They married, divorced and remarried in San Francisco, where she painted several portraits on display, maybe most notably Frida and Diego Rivera, 1931— her wedding gift to him. The turbulence and tears in their relationship palpate through her self-portraits, and of his wife he said, “Never before had a woman depicted on canvas such agonized poetry as Frida did.”
Don’t leave without viewing a black and white film that might be my most lasting memory. Frida is engaged in conversation, charming a rapt listener, her hair coiled atop her head. As the words flow, she effortlessly, plucks roses from a vine and dexterously entwines them into the braid. Grace, confidence and beauty. —Gwynned Vitello
Frida Kahlo: Appearances Can Be Deceiving shows through February 7, 2021, at the de Young Museum in San Francisco.