Brooklyn Museum’s Frida Kahlo Exhibition Is First in U.S. to Show Bounty of Personal Items

Brooklyn Museum’s Frida Kahlo Exhibition Is First in U.S. to Show Bounty of Personal Items

The Brooklyn Museum is making history with its upcoming Frida Kahlo exhibition, becoming the first U.S. institution to display the beloved Mexican artist’s personal possessions as part of a retrospective.

Titled “Frida Kahlo: Appearances Can Be Deceiving,” the exhibition includes more than 100 pieces of Kahlo’s clothing, jewelry and cosmetics that Diego Rivera kept at the pair’s Mexico City home, Casa Azul. By showing the garments, curators said they hope to give museum visitors a deeper, more personal look into how the surrealist painter crafted a public identity.

The show, which opens Feb. 8, marks the first time in 10 years that such a large collection of Kahlo’s work has been presented stateside. Joining her personal effects will be seminal paintings, including “Self-Portrait With Necklace,” (1933), “Self Portrait as a Tehuana (Diego on My Mind)” (1943), “Self Portrait with Braid” (1941), among others. Meanwhile, photographs from the Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection provide a rare glimpse into Kahlo’s brief time living in New York City, about two decades before her death in 1954. (Historians credit this period with further cementing Kahlo’s political allegiance to communist causes.)

Anne Pasternak, director of the Brooklyn Museum, suggested the exhibition is especially timely given the frayed relationship between President Donald Trump’s administration and Mexico.

Nickolas Muray’s “Frida in New York,” 1946; © Nickolas Muray Photo Archive. (Photo: Brooklyn Museum)

“We are absolutely thrilled to feature such an iconic and globally recognized artist in one of her largest exhibitions in New York City to date,” said Pasternak, who is also a member of the ALL ARTS editorial advisory board, in a statement announcing the exhibition. “Focused on the life and work of Frida Kahlo, the show comes at an important time, when it is critical to build cultural bridges.”

Visitors will have the rare opportunity to see the painter’s elaborate headdresses, Mesoamerican jewelry and traditional Mexican attire. Kahlo started wearing skirts and billowing blouses from Tehuana, a matriarchal society in Oaxaca, about 10 years after the Mexican Revolution ended in 1920. Historians have come to interpret the style as both a statement about national pride and cultural identity.

Her sartorial choices also served as a practical method to accommodate her disabilities. Renowned for her ability to channel physical trauma into her work, Kahlo contracted polio as a child, and as a result of the illness, her right leg was shorter and thinner than her left. Later, when she was 18, a grisly bus crash left her with a pierced abdomen and uterus, a broken spinal column, a broken collarbone and 11 fractures in her right leg. Her pieces reflect her battle with infertility and the physical pain she endured for most of her life as a result.

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“The prevailing narrative that women are too often defined by their clothes, their appearance and their beauty was powerfully co-opted by Kahlo through the empowering and intentional choices she made to craft her own identity,” Catherine Morris, a senior curator in the museum’s Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art, said in a statement. “The show expands our understanding of Kahlo by revealing the unique power behind the ways she presented herself in the world and depicted herself in her art.”

“Frida Kahlo: Appearances Can Be Deceiving” will run through May 12, 2019.

Top Image: Courtesy of Exhibition view, Appearances Can Be Deceiving at the Frida Kahlo Museum, 2012. Photo by Miguel Tovar.