On 21 December Viva la Vida: Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera opened in Moscow. People have long awaited such an event. It will be the first large scale Moscow exhibition of paintings by the Mexican painters. It will also tell the story of the most famous married couple in 20th century art. It includes over 90 exhibits borrowed from the Dolores Olmedo Museum in Mexico, which has the largest collection of works by Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, as well as paintings and illustrations from private European and Latin American collections, the collection of Diego Rivera’s grandson Juan Coronel Rivera, the Arvil Gallery (Mexico City and the US) and works from the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts and documents from the Russian state archives that have never before been put on display.
Mos.ru asked the exhibition’s curator Katarina Lopatkina to choose ten must-see exhibits and to tell some stories about the artists’ lives connected with them.
Frida Kahlo began to paint when she was 18, after a bus accident left her bedridden with a spinal trauma. She met her husband Diego Rivera several years later, when she brought him her earliest works to have a look at. He fell in love with her. Their life together cannot be called quiet: fallouts, jealousy and cheating, but it was one of the main sources of Kahlo’s inspiration.
Henry Ford Hospital by Frida Kahlo (1932)
Frida Kahlo’s biography is the foundation of all her works, and the Henry Ford Hospital, a central piece at the exhibition, is no exception. The artist described her tragedy: she had a miscarriage on 4 July 1932. It was her second pregnancy that ended so tragically.
On the picture, red threads like umbilical cords connect Frida with her lost child, a magnolia (gift from her husband Diego Rivera), a snail (the symbol of the painfully slow time), a metallic device (as the mechanical part of any living body), an anatomical model of a female body and a haunch bone damaged in the traffic accident (the reason why Frida couldn’t have any children).
When creating this picture, the artist used the idea of reredos: Latin American illustrations portraying saints helping people. However, Frida does not paint the main element: the saint, thus emphasising how helpless and abandoned she feels.
Only a few scratches! Frida Kahlo (1935)
The picture shows a naked woman covered with blood lying on a bed in the middle of an empty room. A rolled down sock on the right leg shows how vulnerable its owner is. The murderer, her husband, is completely dressed. He is holding a knife.
This picture also has a story behind it. In 1935, a newspaper published an article about a woman who had been murdered by her husband because he was jealous. During the court case, he said something that shocked Frida: “Only a few scratches!”
Many saw Diego Rivera as someone just like this character, too: the same body wearing the hat he liked. Why him? Right at that time another thing happened that hurt Frida a lot: she found out that her husband had cheated on her with her younger sister Cristina. For an excuse he said that this short affair didn’t mean anything: here are the “few scratches” again. The couple discussed the situation and decided to have an open marriage. Starting from that moment, both of them could have lovers.
The Broken Column by Frida Kahlo (1944)
The Broken Column is among Frida’s most famous works. She said that it was a manifesto of suffering and female strength against fate at the same time. She painted her body with a split down the middle which resembles an ancient cracked column (the body is held together with the metal corset she had to wear after she broke her spine and had had many operations).
The picture shows the Pedregal Plateau in the background, where Rivera began to build a museum for his collection of pre-Hispanic sculpture in the 1940s. The Mexican culture and suffering are the main themes in her art.
The Mask by Frida Kahlo (1945)
The Mask is a rather unusual self-portrait from the later period in Kahlo’s art. She was 38 years old and could not maintain the image of a beautiful and free-minded woman. She worried about this very much. She explained her fondness for self-portraits in a very simple way: you must draw what you know well.
In the picture, her face is hidden behind a Malinche mask. Malinche was a heroine of the Mexican folklore, a lover of the conqueror Hernan Cortes. Her mask is always painted in red, because it is the colour of passion and blood.
Self-portrait with Monkey by Frida Kahlo (1945)
This picture unites several images that Frida used frequently: a monkey, pre-Hispanic sculpture, a dog and a nail. The artist believed that money was a loyal friend that could replace the child she never bore. The nail symbolised deception, and the Xoloitzcuintli dog was a sacred animal for the Aztecs.
Through this picture Kahlo wanted to say that she no longer trusted her husband and a completely different assortment of things helped her overcome the difficulties that she had. Frida and Diego always had many pets in their house such as parrots, monkeys and dogs.
Self-portrait with Broad-Brimmed Hat by Diego Rivera (1907)
Diego Rivera did not paint as many self-portraits as Frida. Self-portrait with Broad-Brimmed Hat is one of his earliest works. It was inspired by such masters as Diego Velazquez, El Greco and Francisco Goya. Rivera carefully studied all their art between 1907 and1909. First he studied in Italy, then in France and later he moved to Belgium.
The Telegraph Pole by Diego Rivera (1916)
The Telegraph Pole is one of the most famous Cubism pictures by Rivera. He met Pablo Picasso, who greatly influenced him in Paris. They soon became friends and spent a lot of time together. Diego really got into Cubism and painted about 200 pictures in this style.
However, once he had a fight with one of the most influential critics in France and stopped painting that way. It can be said that his artistic destiny changed a lot because of his terrible character often mentioned by friends and relatives.
Glorious Victory by Diego Rivera (1954)
Glorious Victory is a political painting portraying the US invasion of Guatemala. The large picture measuring about 3m by 5m is being put on display in Russia for the first time. Diego painted it in 1954 and two years later gave it to the Union of Artists of the USSR that sent it over to the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts for storage. The picture was long thought lost in the West.
The painting was delivered to the Manezh in a special van and before being unpacked was left intact for 24 hours to avoid fluctuations in temperature.
Russian Nurse and Sputnik Boy by Diego Rivera (1956)
In 1955, Diego was treated by oncologists in the USSR. He spent about a year in hospital. In order not to lose time, he drew everything he saw around him including doctors, nurses and children walking about. This is how Russian Nurse, a favourite work of his, was created.
The time of his treatment coincided with the launch of the first artificial satellite in the USSR, PS-1. So the artist decided to dedicate the portrait of a small boy to this event, explaining that “This is the people looking into the future, like a child.”