Frida Kahlo Exhibit premieres in Philly

Maggie Mallon

The first major exhibition in 15 years featuring the works of Frida Kahlo opened at the Philadelphia Museum of Art on Feb. 20.

The exhibition commemorates the 100th anniversary of Kahlo’s birth.

Over 40 paintings are featured, along with more than 100 photographs from Kahlo’s personal collection.

Many of Kahlo’s paintings draw upon her own life experiences, and the exhibition incorporates her extensive personal involvement in all her works.

Kahlo is most famous for the numerous self-portraits she completed, and her life experiences are apparent and influential in each.

“Kahlo’s distinctive, jewel-like works are vividly detailed compositions often filled with personal symbolism,” Director of Media Relations Norman Keyes said in a news release.

Kahlo was born in 1907 to a Mexican Indian-Spanish mother and German father.

Her family and her heritage played an important role in both her painting and photography.

Her father, a photographer himself, generated her interest in photography.

She shared a close relationship with her father, and several photographs from her teenage years show her wearing her father’s suits.

Frida traveled to New York City with her husband, Mexican painter Diego Rivera, in 1933.

While in the United States, Kahlo was inspired to paint “My Dress Hangs There.”

The painting demonstrates Kahlo’s strong ties to Mexico, as she critiques the United States for its glorification of money, commercialized sex (depicted in actress Mae West), indoor plumbing and sports.

When Kahlo was 18, she was involved in a traffic accident that would forever impact her artwork.

A trolley collided with the bus she was riding, and a metal handrail drove through her abdomen, damaging her spine, fracturing her pelvis and ultimately preventing her from having children.

She would experience recurring pain from the accident for the remainder of her life.

In “Self Portrait,” a 1943 painting, Kahlo displays herself with her pet monkeys. The animals gather around her, and she treats them as though they are her children.

This is one of many paintings in which Kahlo is depicted displaying maternal behavior towards her pets, conduct that resulted from the traumatic accident she experienced as a young adult.

Kahlo was 22 years old when she married Rivera.

At the time of their marriage, he was 20 years her senior. Their relationship was tumultuous, and both had numerous extramarital affairs.

One of Kahlo’s most famous self-portraits was completed in 1940 during the process of divorcing Rivera.

“Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird” portrays Kahlo with a necklace of thorns cutting into her skin.

She portrays herself as a martyr, struggling through her crumbling marriage.

Kahlo and Rivera would eventually reconcile and remarry, but the marriage was never without conflict.

The exhibition features some of the later works of Kahlo’s life, which include further portrayal of the hardships she faced.

Her health worsened, and her paintings incorporate the lingering effects of her traffic accident.

Several still-life paintings Kahlo completed in her later years are featured in the exhibition.

These paintings do not display the same emotional involvement as her other works but were a means for her to pay medical bills for different surgical procedures completed in effort to aid her enduring injury.

The Kahlo exhibition will run through May 20.

Each tour provides an audio guide that reveals more about the complexities of Kahlo’s life and the impact her experiences had on her work.