Review of Frida Kahlo’s exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum 2019
“ Frida Kahlo: Appearances Can Be Deceiving”
This show is not so much an exhibition of the artist’s work, but a recapitulation of her life through her clothing, jewelry, and objects from her home. While there are more than 350 objects on display only 11 paintings are exhibited. This show extends beyond the easel and goes into her home, her fashion, and her relationships. Long before branding oneself was today’s obsession, she consciously and meticulously presented herself in appearance and cultural dress, making unquestionable proud statements to her femininity and sexuality, country, politics, relationships, and art. The photographs on display divulge her meticulous craftsmanship of a stern, self-possessed record for the lens. At the age of 6, she contracted polio, then at 18 she was in an accident that shattered her spine and suffered multiple complex fractures to her right leg. These personal traumas, as you would image, played an integral part in all aspects of her life going forward. She underwent multiple surgeries, in constant pain, she wore braces and corsets to sustain her spine and would eventually have her wasted right leg amputated. Her Tehuana clothing served to hid her afflictions, the loose blouses giving breathing room and covering the corsets and braces while the long skirts covered her lower extremities, the concern being the wasted right leg and eventual prosthetic limb. Kahlo favored the beautiful colorful ensembles of striped shawls over white lace blouses, coveralls festooned with woven silk flowers, and richly colored skirts of canary yellow and rich indigo. Many of the orthopedic corsets became canvases in their own right and in my personal opinion where the strongest, most powerful, and moving works on display. The story of her life and culture, her beliefs, her loves, and her traumas were all expressed in some fashion either direct or indirect in these corset paintings. She married Rivera, 20 years her senior, and their relationship, in brief, was complex, tumultuous but passionate, with divorce and remarriage, but attentive and committed to each other till her death at age 47. The masterful painting exhibited “Self-Portrait as a Tehuana (Diego on My Mind)” reflected this strong and powerful alliance. It is a strangely compelling icon, referencing monjas coronadas, or nuns painted as brides of Christ. Diego’s image is tattooed in the chevron of Frida’s unibrow, and framing her face is a stiff lace headdress called a resplandor.