I would have liked to write this review without knowing so much about Kahlo. she came from a well-off family, popular and involved in the Mexican society of the time, despite the many upheavals of the Revolution. She was the much beloved daughter of a renowned photographer of German descent who, despite her gender and her limitations, introduced her to the arts and mysteries of photography by making her his assistant. She met, married and remarried a much older legendary and physically unattractive Mexican painter. She had one leg shorter than other and had a near fatal tram accident at 25 that left her suffering pain, orthopedic corsets and leg, cut off toe boots, multiple surgeries throughout her life, and became incapable of having children. Her husband mistreated and tormented her and betrayed her with her own sister. She forgave him. She herself had multiple affairs. She made an art of her hair braiding, emphasizing her personality with a mono brow and a mustache to make her sexually ambiguous and a celebrity in a nation that was joining the modern age. She was empathetic to the revolutionary scene and knew Chavela Vargas, Trotsky, Breton and consequently supported the communists in the Spanish Civil War while still enjoying a posh international social life. Her first exhibition in New York was curated by one of her famous lovers.
I know too much. I am simply not impartial anymore. Was she such a skilled painter as almost everybody thinks? Was she as feminist as many pretend she was? Her paintings are colourful in the tradition of Mexican culture, correctly painted depending on your level of requirement, much inspired by her husband´s style and sometimes bizarre and surprising for their surrealistic features so trendy at that time, but not much more. She does not seem to care much about the surrounding world in general. While going through this exhibition I recalled Gala Dalí, another self-made character, though she was overwhelmed by the outstanding genius of Salvador.
The scenography and lay-out are perfect and the intention mostly didactic. You will learn about a famous woman painter, her Mexican culture and her dramatic story and will come out with some pity in your heart and a smile on your face.
This exhibition in the magnificent Victoria and Albert Museum talks very little about art but a lot about the life of an icon. In the end she did it with or without wings.
Susana Gomez Lain
Making Herself Up at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
Volume 32 no 6 July/August 2018 p 17