Better late than never, right?
In October I had the pleasure of walking through the Art Gallery of Ontario exhibit Frida & Diego: Passion, Politics and Painting, displaying artwork and images associated with the lives of Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo, a mind-boggling show I wrote of a couple of times (Frida and Diego @ the AGO and Latent Frida), and whose influence hung over everything else I lived through for weeks like a sweet perfume. One of the natural places to end a great show is in the bookstore, where one hopes to capture and maybe take home a bit of the magic felt in the gallery. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.
It’s only now that I am really looking at the books (better late than never), enjoying happy flashbacks.
The exhibit is recorded in a book called –naturally—Frida & Diego: Passion, Politics and Painting. Edited by Dot Tuer & Elliott King, this is an instant reminder of the magic of the show, and can be found online for all of $19.95.
It’s not a huge book, but sufficiently substantial, boldly mixing photography with the art in the same way the exhibit juxtaposed their art & their lives. It’s tempting to see them separately because of the contrasts between their work. For Diego, you see examples of European art influencing his work, reading too about influences such as the Mexican revolution & Soviet realist art. For Frida, we see her at home, her health issues, and read of influences, even as we see her original –and seminal—voice burst forth in her work. The book suggests some of the ways in which the influences were mutual, although for that one must read between the lines.
The other volume I brought home is very different, namely Frida Kahlo: Portraits of an Icon. I didn’t see it in the online catalogue (which probably can’t list everything considering how large the bookstore’s catalogue…), but I suspect this is the place in Toronto if you hope to find it, rather than seeking it online.
Where the show (and its catalogue) is wonderfully eclectic, combining photos & art to take us through the tumultuous decades of the two artists’ lives, the portrait book is very dry and restrained. There’s a wonderful essay to begin the book, by Margaret Hooks. I was reminded of Harper’s Index, with its deadpan assembly of factual data without commentary. This time, however, the “index” is a series of over fifty photos capturing Frida Kahlo throughout her life, beautifully reproduced in a presentation as restrained and quiet as an art gallery. We see her in childhood photographed by her father, in her youth, sometimes with Diego, often holding or sitting with one of her many companion animals. For anyone who is too distracted by the unibrow to notice what a stunningly original & beautiful woman Kahlo was, these photos are truly eye-openers. Many images are powerful reminders of Kahlo’s art, because of course, many of her paintings are self-portraits. The portraits in this book seem to calibrate her paintings.
For what it’s worth, Frida & Diego: Passion, Politics and Painting is open at the AGO until January 20th. While you can capture the show in a book, it’s still there in the gallery for a little while longer.