Recent years have seen Frida Kahlo become feminist icon, patron saint of the afflicted and totem of Chicano Latino cultural aspirations. She would have laughed her famously wicked guffaw at the religiosity which now surrounds her reputation. Born in 1907, and a confirmed Communist, by the time of her death in 1954 she was only interested in one kind of organised thinking—Stalinism (she was working on a portrait of Stalin when she died).
Despite such political misjudgement, her vivid, corrus-cating paintings are highly prized and auction records show her to be the most valued Latin American painter in history. Many of her privileged collectors are loath to lend their work out, so it is a rare treat indeed to view a substantial body of Frida’s work. Señora Dolores Olmedo Patiño—an old friend and confidante both of Frida and Diego Rivera, Frida’s gargantuanly proportioned and talented husband—has now decided to share her bounty.
“Frida Kahlo: a Mexican private collection”, which opened this month at the Ordrupgaard Collection in Copenhagen (until 4 January 1998), and has already toured Helsinki, Oslo and Stockholm, contains many treasures from Señora Patiño’s once private and jealously guarded collection—now a museum in Mexico City. Also on show are a series of documentary photographs of Frida and her circle from Throckmorton Fine Arts in New York. Frida, a flawed goddess in her Tehuantepec costume, bejewelled and brazen, was no stranger to the camera.
The painting called “The broken column”, from 1944, is one of Frida’s most poignant self-portraits, and is the only nude. The title refers to her shattered spine and tortured body. Tears run down her ravaged face and the voluptuous body is pierced with nails.
In “My nurse and I” (1937) another obsession is revealed. Frida, an infant with an adult head, suckles calmly at the breast of a wet-nurse who wears a fearsome Pre-Hispanic mask. This metaphor establishes Frida’s identification with ancient Mexico, before the Fall, before the rapacious conquistadores. “A few small nips” (1935) is a blood-spattered image of a murder she read about in the tabloids. The perpetrator had apparently explained his act in court by saying “but I only gave her a few small nips” (unos quantos piquetitos). Frida’s wild irreverence is in full flood here.
Frida Kahlo was unjustly eclipsed, both literally and artistically, by Rivera, the Orson Welles of the Mexican muralist movement. Frida would be amused to know she is now classed as a “National Monument” in Mexico. Her work—shocking, confrontational and stunning—is a synthesis of Old World and New. A love of folk art, Olmec and Aztec iconography, and early Renaissance portraiture conjoin in an idiosyncratic, personal vision. “Frida Kahlo: a Mexican private collection” will travel to the Gianadda Foundation in Martigny, Switzerland as part of a bigger show “Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera” (24 January to 1 June 1998).
Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Frida Kahlo in Copenhagen'