Wednesday, March 5, 2014

San Diego - Frida Kahlo

March 2014 - San Diego CA

I really wanted to attend the Frida Kahlo exhibit at NTC Liberty Station. I first became intrigued by Frida when I saw her husband Diego Rivera's murals in Mexico City in 1975, then in the mid-90s and again in 2002.

Then there was the movie Frida.

In Mazatlan I found this painting of Frida at the Look Gallery.

This was a fascinating venue known as the Navy Training Center.

In 1915, Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Franklin D. Roosevelt first surveyed San Diego as a possible site for the next Naval Training Station.

The 1930′s were marked by expansion and modernization. A new mess hall, library, Protestant and Catholic church, medical units, heating plan and offices were added. The growth was fortuitous because of what the beginning of the next decade would bring.

During the war years of 1941-1945, the Naval Training Station continued to grow to accommodate the need for sailors. During the peak of World War II, in September of 1942, the population reached 33,000, the most that the station would ever see. 25,000 of those were young recruits. Many new buildings were added, and the size of the Station tripled. A total of 41 schools had been established to meet the needs of recruit training. Throughout the next 40 years, the center remained a vital part of the military effort even as late as the 1990s. With San Diego being home to more than a sixth of the Navy’s fleet, the Naval Training Center has played a key strategic role throughout the last century.

Nowadays the buildings are used by Von's, Trader Joe's, ACE Hardware, restaurants, brewery, and many other businesses. A great use of a fabulous historic property.

To the real purpose of our trip! The Frida Kahlo exhibit.
No photographs were allowed but I manged to snap a few (as did other visitors).

This was the US premiere of this exhibit so hopefully we can see it again in another city. Taking the audio tour was definitely worth it to learn the background to each piece.

Frida Kahlo de Rivera (July 6, 1907 – July 13, 1954; Magdalena Carmen Frieda Kahlo y Calderón) was a Mexican painter, born in Coyoacán. Perhaps best known for her self-portraits, Kahlo's work is remembered for its "pain and passion", and its intense, vibrant colors. Her work has been celebrated in Mexico as emblematic of national and indigenous tradition, and by feminists for its uncompromising depiction of the female experience and form.

My photos are a little blurry as I was furtively shooting hoping the museum curate didn't appear around a corner.

One of the first paintings in the collection is The Bus El Camion.
Sitting in a row on a bench in a rickety bus are representatives from different levels of Mexican society. Frida, like Rivera, demonstrated her sympathy for the dispossessed. Her heroine is clearly the Madonna-like, barefoot Indian mother suckling her baby. Nor is there any question as to the villain: he is the blue-eyed gringo who, like Rivera's fat capitalist in his "Night of the Rich" panel at the Ministry of Education, holds a moneybag loaded with coins.

I loved this bright portrait she did of her sister, who later goes on to have an affair with Frida's husband Diego Rivera. Woman in White Frida Kahlo painted a “Renaissance” style portrait of her younger sister Cristina in 1928.

“The Dream” (1940) shows her lying asleep in a four-poster bed, floating among the clouds, with a skeleton-like figure reclining on the bed’s canopy above her.

It was while lying in bed, recovering from her injuries, that Frida Kahlo learned to paint, so the bed was a symbol of creativity for her. However, beds are also places where people die and babies are both conceived and born, so there are all sorts of other messages here.

The skeleton was painted from a papier-mâché skeleton that she had made for a Mexican celebration, and might therefore be a reference to her culture. However, this skeleton holds a faded bunch of flowers, such as a bride might carry. Could this therefore be a reference to her own troubled marriage? Kahlo and Rivera had divorced in 1939, but re-married in December 1940.

Vine tendrils grow up from the foot of the bed and encircle her head. These are matched by wires that entwine the skeleton, but link to cylinders of dynamite. The sleeping woman is therefore entwined by life but her dream image is bound by death. The irony here is that Frida Kahlo was incapable of producing life, for the reason mentioned above.

The Two Fridas, 1939
Shortly after her divorce from Diego Rivea, Frida completed this self-portrait of two different personalities. In her diary, Frida writes that this painting originated from her memory of an imaginary childhood friend. Later she admitted it records the emotions surrounding her separation and martial crisis.

On the right, the part of her person which was respected and loved by Diego, is the Mexican Frida in Tehuana costume. In her hand she holds an amulet bearing the portrait of Diego as a child. On the left, a more rather European Frida in a lacy white Victorian wedding dress, the Frida that Diego abandoned. The hearts of the two women lie exposed, a device Frida often used to express her pain. The unloved Frida's heart is broken while the other Frida's heart is whole. From the amulet that Frida is holding springs a vein that travels through both women's hearts and is finally cut off by the surgical pincers held in the lap of the rejected Frida. In despair, Frida tries to stop the flow of blood from Diego but it keeps dripping, she is in danger of bleeding to death. The stormy sky filled with agitated clouds may reflect Frida's inner turmoil. Holding her own hand, she is her only companion.

Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird, 1940
In spite of its small size (approximately 16 x 24), there are many different interesting aspects to focus on, many of which are symbolic to Kahlo. Kahlo faces the viewer with her head and shoulders taking up much of the space. She is surrounded by green leaves of similar size and shape with one yellow leaf behind her head. On the left side of the painting a spider monkey holds a piece of the thorns that encircle her neck. There are several drops of blood on her neck from the piercing thorns. A black cat looks over her other shoulder. A black hummingbird hangs from the thorns with its beak in the hollow of her throat. Her hair is piled with a purple textile into a figure eight-like design with two butterfly-like creatures with lace wings visible on either side. Two creatures fly above her head with a flower body and dragonfly wings. Kahlo's expression is solemn and appears to be patiently enduring pain. Her focus is inward and not engaging with the viewer.

Kahlo often refers in her art to her Mexican heritage and her relationship with her husband a famous Mexican muralist, Diego Rivera. The light values and the placement of the insects suggest flight and freedom in contrast to the darkness of the bird, cat and monkey which appear to be grounding the figure. The monkey may represent one of her pet monkeys or maybe a child. A monkey is found in many of Frida Kahlo's self-portraits often on her shoulder.

Lunch was at the Stone Brewery just down from the exhibit. Delightful!

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