Going to Pallant House Gallery in Chichester with Jess to Swoon over the Frida Kahlo/Diego Rivera exhibition.
Usually I go to exhibitions by myself partly because I would like to form my own, personal opinions of work. The other part is my crippling fear of talking to anyone else about art without boring them, or sounding like a know-it-all. Today a woman loudly exclaimed to her companions her opinion on Patrick Caulfield’s use of acrylic. They all nodded because that’s all they were permitted to do. She then smiled smugly and continued to make all sorts of observations around her that pointed towards her opinion, and how no-one else was allowed to have one. Mentally I imagined her tripping up over her ridiculous tote bag which she’d planted on the floor as some sort of residential flag. She didn’t and the part of me that is reserved for justice shriveled slightly.
I took Jess, a good friend who deals with my various neuroses, along with me. She’ll probably say it’s because she has a car, but that’s not true. Jess brings various things to our friendship, two of them a mutual love of Diet Coke and Beyonce. Preferably together. I bring nothing of note.
Frida Kahlo has been a love of mine for many years, I was introduced to her by someone I respect very much, who introduced me to many other things too. I’ve been dying to see Kahlo’s paintings in person for years, so, poor as I am, I managed to convince Jess to drive me. She witnessed me get as close as possible so I could see where Frida had been, get in other people’s way and generally stomp around on Pallant House’s hollow floors.
The exhibition is wonderful, really wonderful. By presenting Frida Kahlo alongside her great love, Diego Rivera, I was sceptical that it would be too romanticised to truly represent both artists, however I found their pairing a fitting testament to the love and influence they had over each other; their intimacies and the inseparable bond that tied them together. I’ll be honest, Diego Rivera has never been an interest of mine until very recently, and I was astounded by two pieces in particular, Calla Lilies Vendors, and his sexually charged portrait of Natasha Gelman:
Aside from his famous Calla Lilies, it’s Rivera’s most Un-South American, and it’s interesting to see such wealth on a background that previously symbolised workers and depictions of poverty. I know Rivera had a lot of criticism regarding his relationship to the wealthy and affluent, when his politics had contrasting ideals, so it’s interesting to see his portrayal of the European aristocracy.
It was also an eye-opener to see Frida Kahlo under the gaze of someone other than herself, particularly in a more sexual light (see Diego’s Nude with Beads). Of course, one must take into account the male gaze as ultimately the female nude is meant for the ‘viewing’ of the assumed male spectator, but as John Berger explains in Ways of Seeing, there is a certain difference between the traditional nude and a naked painting of ones lover; ‘The spectator can witness their relationship - but he can do no more: he is forced to recognize himself as the outsider he is. He cannot deceive himself into believing that she is naked for him.’ This is perhaps evident with Diego’s sketches of Frieda. I’d like to know your opinions on that.
It’s hard not to get emotional when you’re in the same room as the work of a hero (as far as heroes can go), so I tried to get as close as humanely possible in order to catch the breath of a Frida’s immense footprint. I have the worst phone camera in the world, and I attempted to take pictures of some detail. I’m sorry but I really shouldn’t have tried! I hope you can at least see how far I pushed the staff at Pallant House, who didn’t tell me off ONCE. There was a page of Frida’s diary that I got up close and personal with. Her diary was famously reorganised and changed daily; painting over pages if she wasn’t happy with how she felt when looking back. That was really pushing it.
My favourite piece was ‘Diego on my mind’, which I attempted to detail, badly:
It’s amazing. I don’t think I can comment properly on the significance of this painting as an overall dialogue between Frida and Diego, when they were both on the minds of each other. Their relationship aside, this exhibition was a wonderful tribute to two thoroughly influential artists. It’s at Pallant House until the 9th of October, if you live by the South Coast I’ll happily go with you again.
As a final note, several photos were shown of Frida, both portraits and those of her working, one of which I’ve included above. What a beautiful woman!