Friday, March 11, 2011

looking in on frida

Mexico City has its share of art museums -- The Museum of Modern Art, the Tamayo Contemporary Art Museum.

And we saw none of them on our bus tour.

That does not mean it was an artless trip.  The city itself is a giant work of art -- with grand architecture dating from the colonial period through some very edgy new sky scrapers.

But that is not what most Canadians and Americans think of when we hear the term "Mexican art."  What we want to see are the names we know: Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo.

I am loth to commit cultural libel here.  But I suspect most people north of the Rio Bravo know Diego and Frida, not through extensive studies in comparative art, but in the way we know most things -- through popular culture.  In this case, Julie Taymor's Frida is most likely the primary resource.

The film is a visual tour de force.  That is how the puppeteer Taymor sees the world.  But anyone who confuses Salma Hayek with the dowdy Frida ignores the fact that Julie Taymor is a fantasy spinner.  Her Titus is a prime example.  Films that you can admire more than enjoy.

If you strip Frida of her recently-acquired feminist icon patina, she is still an enigma.  Did she start painting because there was art inside her that needed to get out?  Or was it to express her pain, her politics, her despair about everything in life?  Or did she just want to bait the artistic hook to catch herself a Diego carp?

We don't know.  She was far too good about disguising who she was.

What we do know is she left behind some drawings and paintings that can be viewed at what was one her home -- and is now the Museo Frida Kahlo.

I don't have any photographs of her work.  Interestingly, the work of the communist painter is now guarded by the forces of fascism.  At least, the license protectors.  If you want a Frida image, you buy it in the gift shop.

That is just as well. 

I find little of interest in her artwork.  Her technique is derivative of Henri Rousseau's primitivism.  And so self-conscious that you can imagine her muttering to herself in the corner. 

That may be because she had nothing to say that has not been said better elsewhere.

Life is two-dimensional.  Filled with disappointment.  Awash in pain.  Yawn.

I suspect if most people did not know the pieces were drafted by Frida, they could easily mistake if for the work of a seriously disturbed eighth grader.

Even though the art was disappointing, the house was not.

Located in the plummy neighborhood of Coyoacán, the house is intertwined with Frida's life.  She was born and grew up here.  Lived off and on with Diego.  Died.

Other than the bright blue color, it would be easy to think the house was rather small from the street.  But, like many Mexican homes, the façade is merely a mask.

Once you enter the gate, you are in a place that seems to be the antithesis of Frida's life.  This is a temple of hedonism.  Where all of the senses are teased into thrilling at life's pleasures.

The garden is concurrently tranquil and challenging.  Leafy.  With plenty of places to think and contemplate.  But, at every corner, there is some new sculpture -- even a mock Aztec pyramid -- to pull you into a world of wonder.

I love my garden on the laguna -- where I am typing this piece.  But I could easily wile away my life in Frida's garden.

And the house is equally grand.  Frida had the advantage of being born into a prosperous family in one of Mexico City's wealthier neighborhoods.  And the house reflects that class pride.

Open.  Rambling.  A place where a tortured soul could try to find some enjoyment in a world that continually served her one cold plate of rue after another.

Oddly, it is possible to feel her spirit more in the house and her garden than in her art.

The presence of Diego is that of a mere secondary player.  But he never allowed himself to be a true part of her life.  She was married to him (twice), but he was never married to her.

Let's talk about the rogue's work in the next post.


Felipe Zapata said...

I visited that house years back and like it a lot. I like her art better than you do too.

Steve Cotton said...

I found more of Frida in her house than in her art.

Trinidad Garcia said...

I am not as moved by Frida's work as I wish to be. I can relate because I too would have been more excited about the house then what was on the walls.

Steve Cotton said...

I really like that first sentence. I felt the same way. I wanted to enjoy her art. Her personal story is compelling. But she does not connect with me.

jennifer rose said...

You have to read Frida Kahlo's bio to understand her art and its context. Start with Hayden Herrera's book, and then go back and read Bertram Wolfe's biographies, in both editions, of Diego Rivera. When you have done that, we can continue the discussion about Frida Kahlo.

Steve Cotton said...

Thanks for the suggestions. On the reading list they go. (My brief stay in Oregon made me realize once again how much I miss good book stores.) I have a nodding acquaintance with the broad story, and I understand (I think) the imagery Frida chose. I just do not find it compelling. But, like Keynes, I am certainly willing to change my mind if the facts change.

Rick said...

Indirectly Frida brought us Salma, and that is good!

Steve Cotton said...

Justice Cotton concurs -- with relish.

Glorv1 said...

Enjoyed your post Steve, especially since it was of Frida and Diego.

Steve Cotton said...

Frida and Diego are always worth a post or two.