Frida Kahlo

at the Philadelphia Museum of Art through May 18

To celebrate the centennial of Frida Kahlo's birth, a major retrospective of her work has been assembled by the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. The traveling exhibition is currently on display at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

This is a well-put together exhibition that presents many of Kahlo's famous works while organizing them both chronologically and thematically in a way that's accessible and intuitive. But from the standpoint of a general audience the exhibit may be less than satisfying. Kahlo's work is well-represented, but many aspects of her life that inform her work are left maddeningly vague. Her obsession with Mexican identity, her flirtation with Surrealism, her ardent communism, Mexican politics — these things are all alluded to by the exhibition, but there's no attempt to weave them into a coherent tapestry of her life. Meanwhile, many of the obvious incidents that influnce her work — her cripping bus accident, her unhappy marriage to Diego Rivera — are belabored in great detail.

There are a number of smaller missteps as well. The opening portion of the exhibit is given over to some of Kahlo's personal photo albums, though they're presented largely without context and there are far too many of them. Later, a sampling of Mexican ex voto paintings are presented to demonstrate their influence on Kahlo — but by this point, the visitor has already been exposed to many Kahlo's ex voto-influenced works.

However, the exhibition remains very successful in spite of these flaws. For the art lover, the chance to see many of Kahlo's works on display is too good to pass up. For those unfamiliar with Kahlo's work, this is a great chance to develop a new (if somewhat superficial) appreciation for one of Mexico's great artists.

"Frida Kahlo" runs through May 18th at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, before moving to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art from June 16th through September 28.

Also, I'd like to make a note for anyone putting together an audio tour at the Philadelphia Musuem of Art — you don't have to describe the painting under discussion at the beginning of your infodump. 'Cause, you know, I'm already looking at it. Just a pet peeve, really.

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