I had a fantastic weekend filled with several cultural events. Friday night I saw The Smashing Pumpkins at Chastain Park Amphitheater, on Saturday night I saw an improv performance of “Theater Sports” at Dad’s Garage, and on Sunday afternoon I caught the final day of the “Frida & Diego” exhibit at The High Museum of Art. This article is Part 3 of a trilogy about those events.
I waited until the last minute to see the “Frida & Diego: Passion, Politics, and Painting” exhibit at The High, but it was definitely worth the wait. Going in, I knew very little about both Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, other than that both had reputations as great artists. I am very thankful for the education I received.
Now, I won’t pretend to be an expert in the fine arts. I’m not, and I don’t possess the vocabulary or the knowledge to describe and evaluate painting in detail at a high level. I did take a few art classes in high school and college and I dabbled in painting recreationally many years ago, so I know it’s very difficult to be a great artist. After seeing the exhibit at the High, I know for a fact that both Frida and Diego were great artists.
As an amateur art critic, I found a couple things to be extremely impressive about the exhibit. One, the sheer number of pieces from each artist the museum was able to acquire. I’m sure that many of these pieces were on loan from a number of private collections and other museums, so the fact that The High was able to immerse us in a definitive, chronological collection sprawled throughout several rooms was most impressive.
I also loved the thoughtful way the art was arranged throughout the exhibit. It began by introducing us to the two artists with a small collection of portraits, and then proceeded mostly chronologically through the lives of the artists to allow the viewers to experience the various periods of their careers in a natural progression.
Also, the concept of putting the works of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera together in one exhibit was innovative. Even though they were both Mexican artists who were married and spent 25 years together their work is rarely shown together, and it was great to see that The High summoned the imagination and the will to display such a complete and definitive exhibit.
Last and most importantly, I thought the way the strong political views of the artists were presented was perfectly handled. Both Kahlo and Rivera were communists, and The High didn’t shy away from that fact in the slightest. And, perhaps even more importantly, the exhibit didn’t attack their political views in any way. It simply displayed the work in a thoughtful light and the written descriptions were very direct and factual without any hint of judgement. On one wall there was a quote from Frida that read, “I was a member of the party before I met Diego and I think I am a better communist than he is or ever will be.” Given the ugly anti-communist sentiment often generated and encouraged by the establishment in America, I thought this presentation of communist art was truly remarkable and a much needed breath of fresh air.
I was particularly taken by the huge print of Diego’s Man, Controller of the Universe mural which is a recreation of the original Man at the Crossroads mural commissioned and then destroyed by Nelson Rockefeller when Diego refused to remove a portrait of Lenin. The mural was tucked away in a side room, and once you enter it overwhelms you with it’s scope, color, and emotion.
Though much smaller in scale I was also struck by Frida’s My Dress Hangs There, which was created by combining oil paint with collage. Painted in New York while Diego was working for Rockefeller it expresses Frida’s frustration with capitalism and her homesickness.
Another point that needs to be made is how popular this event has been. The exhibit had been going strong for several months, and it was sent off with a 30 hour party. The High opened on Saturday morning, stayed open all Saturday night, and didn’t close until 5pm on Sunday, just to make sure everyone had a chance to see the exhibit. When I was there on Sunday morning, before the museum would normally open, the building was packed.
I think it makes quite a big statement that such a politically radical exhibit can be so popular. It speaks to the disconnect between the powers that be who rule over society and the masses. The people are much more progressive and willing to embrace radical thoughts and ideas than the elite would like to admit, and it’s fantastic exhibits like “Frida & Diego” that help to prove that point.
-For Part 1 of my Weekend of Culture series click here.
-For Part 2 of my Weekend of Culture series click here.