From Socialist Voice, June 2011

Art

Mexican art master at IMMA

There is an exhibition until 26 June at the Irish Museum of Modern Art in Kilmainham of a collection of paintings by Frida Kahlo (1907–1954) and her husband, Diego Rivera (1886–1957), the two central figures of Mexican modernism.
     Rivera is more famous for his murals, while most of the portraits are Kahlo’s. It was not until decades after her death that Kahlo’s work was widely recognised.
     In a life dominated by injury and ill-health, many of her self-portraits are of pain, anger, and disappointment. Her art is not only inseparably tied in with this experience but is controversial for her self-cultivated public persona. She also expressed her glamour, her Mexican heritage, her sexuality and her communist leaning in all candidness.
     “They thought I was a surrealist, but I wasn’t. I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality.”
     Their lives were bound up not only with the efforts to promote their art but with the turbulence of Mexican society—what comes after revolution—but also with their active friendships (and conflicts) with leading figures. Their own relationship was tempestuous: they married, divorced, and remarried within a year; Frida even had a brief love affair with the exiled Trotsky.
     Her life has been made into a film, called Frida (2002), which is a fairly accurate account of this exceptional woman, played by Salma Hayek; but this is the first opportunity to see her art in Ireland.
     Rivera’s paintings are not as striking, for to demonstrate his achievements one would have to transport buildings, institutions and staircases from Mexico and the United States. He was first and foremost a mural painter, and the bigger the wall the more he was pleased!
     He was one of the three greats of the Mexican muralist movement, the other two being Orozco and Siquieros. All were men of the left, with the latter and Rivera leading communists.
     They largely rejected the notion of easel painting, arguing that art was made to be public and accessible to the masses.
     At first encouraged by government contracts, they individually created vast murals, which remain worldwide attractions. The themes of many of them are based on the achievements of pre-Columbian native civilisations and the peasants’ and workers’ participation in the Mexican Revolution and their hopes for a better future.
     The story of the creation and destruction of a Rivera mural, Man at the Crossroads, commissioned by the Rockefeller Foundation in the United States, is featured in a film, The Cradle Will Rock (1999), directed by Tim Robbins.
[TR]

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