A series of significant works by Frida Khalo and Diego Rivera, along with more than 150 Mexican Modernist artworks, went on view this month at the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach, Florida. The exhibition Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera and Mexican Modernism from the Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection (until 6 February 2022) reflects on the “relationship and tastes that the Gelmans shared with the artists in their orbit”, says Ghislain d’Humières, the director and chief executive of the museum.
The late philanthropists—Jacques Gelman, a prolific filmmaker, and Natasha Gelman, his glamourous wife—were Eastern European immigrants who relocated to Mexico in the 1940s and became avid collectors of Mexican art, amassing a vast collection of Modern art and pre-Columbian sculpture. Most of their collection was donated to the Metropolitan Museum of Art after Natasha died in 1998.
Rivera and Kahlo both painted the couple various times. An evocative portrait of Natasha Gelman by Kahlo dated from 1943, including a hand-painted frame by the artist, is a centrepiece of the Norton’s exhibition.
Renowned for their creative chemistry and torrid romance, Kahlo and Rivera are considered one of the most distinguished figures of Mexican Modernism. The exhibition features 22 paintings and works on paper by Kahlo and 18 paintings, works on paper and aquatints by Rivera. Some highlights includes Kahlo's Self-Portrait with Monkeys (1943)—in which the artist sits amongst four monkeys that she famously kept as pets—and Rivera’s Calla Lily Vendor (1943) depicting a bundle of calla lilies, one of his signature motifs.
To situate the artists’ works within the larger narrative of Mexican modernism, the show incorporates emblematic pieces from other Mexican artists such as María Izquierdo’s Bride from Papantla (Portrait of Rosalba Portes Gil) (1944)—a vibrant painting of a young bride from the state of Veracruz. The display also includes period clothing and photographs of Kahlo and Rivera, over a dozen of which were taken by renowned photographer Lola Álvarez Bravo, the first woman photojournalist in Mexico.
“The scope of [the exhibition] returns major works of Mexican Modernism to the context in which they were produced—in a collaborative artistic community seeking to make an authentically Mexican modern art by exploring and embracing shared roots and folkloric traditions,” says Ellen E. Roberts, the Harold and Anne Berkley Smith curator of American Art at the Norton Museum of Art.