Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera at NCMA

Exhibit highlights Mexican Modernism and two influential artists

Frida Kahlo, "Diego on My Mind," 1943, left; and Diego Rivera, "Calla Lily Vendor," 1943, right; both from The Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection of 20th-Century Mexican Art, at the N.C. Museum of Art through Jan. 19, 2020.

Few artists have captured the public’s imagination like Mexican artists Frida Kahlo and her husband, Diego Rivera.

“Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, and Mexican Modernism,” at the N.C. Museum of Art through Jan. 19, 2020, presents the paintings of these two icons of the 20th century. Rather than a comprehensive survey of Kahlo and Rivera, the exhibit is a highly personal collection by the couple’s patrons and friends — Jacques and Natasha Gelman.

The couple first met Rivera to commission a portrait of Natasha Gelman, and soon got to know his wife, Frida Kahlo. Over the years, the Gelmans acquired works by both artists.

“They were really prescient, in a way, because Diego was a big star during his lifetime, not only in Mexico but also around the world,” said Jennifer Dasal, NCMA curator of modern and contemporary art. “His wife was known, mostly in art circles and mostly in Mexico and few other places for her art. She wasn’t renowned as an artist, the same way that she is today.”

At the time, Rivera was famous for his large-scale murals in Mexico and the United States, mostly depicting history, cultural revolution and the struggles of the common man. The NCMA exhibit is a chance to compare their careers, says Dasal, who admits that most visitors will be attracted by Kahlo’s work

“Frida’s work is really more about her life and her experiences. One third of her artistic output was self-portraiture,” she said. “She makes her life the center of her work, and so, we really believe we get to know her in that way. She opens up herself and her life in a way that very few artists do.”

In addition to paintings by Kahlo and Rivera, the exhibit includes candid photographs of the couple and the stylish Kahlo, whose personal charisma and flamboyant fashions attracted attention wherever she went.

Some of the most poignant images are photographs toward the end of Kahlo’s life. One shows her recovering from spinal surgery, but still impeccably styled. As her health declined, she continued to paint, even having a mirror installed above her bed, so she could work on her self-portraits.

“I think that’s another reason why a lot of people feel like they love Frida so much, that strength and tenacity,” Dasal said.

Whatever the reason, it is worth exploring the work and influence of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. For more information, including ticket prices, visit ncartmuseum.org.

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