PARIS — A new exhibition in Paris provides insight into Frida Kahlo’s private life, juxtaposing the Mexican artist’s paintings with personal effects ranging from her traditional Tehuana dresses to her orthopedic corsets to her hot pink Revlon lipstick.
“Frida Kahlo, Beyond Appearances” opens Thursday at Palais Galliera, the fashion museum supported by Paris City Hall, after debuting in 2012 as Casa Azul, Kahlo’s birthplace in Mexico City , and stops in London, New York. and San Francisco in different iterations.
The show, which runs until March 5, features more than 200 objects from the Museo Frida Kahlo, including clothing, accessories, letters, cosmetics, medicine and orthopedic aids, including the prosthetic leg with a red leather boot that she started wearing after her lower right leg was amputated a year before her death.
“This exhibition here deals with her identity construction through disability, ethnicity, her gender identity and her political opinions,” said Circe Henestrosa, curator and designer of the exhibition and director of the Lasalle fashion school. Singapore College of the Arts.
Many objects were sealed after Kahlo’s death in 1954 and did not come to light until half a century later. Miraculously, many of his clothes have survived intact and are on display alongside the photographs in which they appear, including a famous series of color portraits by Nickolas Muray.
“While I was looking at her wardrobe, I was looking at photography and painting to understand her style and how she dealt with those materials,” said Henestrosa, whose great aunts provided Kahlo with some of the region’s traditional clothing. Oaxaca she favored.
“Immediately, I saw how all these documents were linked and spoke with each other. In conservation decisions, there are no hierarchies, so clothing is as important as painting, painting is as important as photography, photography is as important as braces,” he said. she continued. “It’s not an art exhibition, it’s an exhibition that shows all the creative processes together in one big narrative.”
The exhibition in the museum’s basement galleries begins with a large documentary section that traces Kahlo’s formative years, including the traumatic events that shaped her as an artist: she contracted polio at six years, leaving her with one leg shorter than the other, and at 18 survived a horrific streetcar crash that left her with multiple injuries requiring lifelong medical attention.
But just as important was the influence of his parents. From her mother Matilde Calderón y González, of Spanish and indigenous descent, she drew her connection to traditional Mexican clothing, while her German-born father Guillermo Kahlo taught her the power of the image.
“Her first form of self-expression was posing in front of her father, who was a photographer, and we notice how after polio she becomes introverted,” said Gannit Ankori, professor of history and theory of polio. art specializing in Frida Kahlo. and who acted as content advisor on the exhibition. “After that, she has that serious, intense look that you find later in her self-portraits.”
After her accident, Kahlo, who was studying medicine at the time, began to paint. One of his drawings from this period shows the crash scene in vivid detail, with Kahlo sprawled amidst the debris, and also hovering above to observe the event.
“What she’s showing here is another Frida, a second me, from the outside, and it’s like the psychological phenomenon of splitting or dissociation, when something so horrible happens to you, you somehow dissociate. take the head out of the body,” Ankori said.
“It’s a motif that recurs throughout her life where she shows the two Fridas, or a doubled self,” she noted.
Photographs taken the following year show Kahlo alternately dressed in a men’s three-piece suit and a knee-length black satin dress. “You see she chooses how to present herself, she strikes a pose to present different aspects of her identity and highlights a gender fluidity before that term even existed,” Ankori said.
After marrying Mexican muralist Diego Rivera in 1929, Kahlo became her personality. She adopted traditional clothing as a statement of her Mexican identity, but also as a way to more comfortably cope with her disability.
“The compositional geometry of the Tehuana dress allows it to be edited, as all the adornment is concentrated from the torso,” Henestrosa remarked. “Under these beautiful fabrics, she will hide her body, but then she will discover it frankly, through her art.”
When Kahlo and Rivera came to the United States in 1930, she captivated photographers like Peter Juley and Imogen Cunningham with her style. “The attitude towards her was kind of condescending, but she was also fascinating,” Ankori said. Film footage from the time shows her descending scaffolding while Rivera works and works on her own designs.
A section created for the Paris exhibition is devoted to her trip to the French capital in 1939, where she took part in a collective exhibition entitled “Mexico” organized by the surrealist poet André Breton. Letters and photographs show that although she was going through a crisis in her marriage to Rivera, Kahlo developed close friendships in France.
This part includes new elements such as his passport, his address book and his ticket for the Normandy cruise liner. But the highlight of the exhibit is the display of Kahlo’s personal effects, including a necklace she made from pre-Columbian jade beads; a bottle of Chanel No. 5 lotion and several Revlon makeup items, including a tube of Everything’s Rosy lipstick.
“When I searched her belongings, I met her for the first time and found someone incredibly sophisticated,” Henestrosa said.
One wall features Kahlo’s collection of orthopedic corsets, some of which she has decorated by hand. In a photograph by Florence Arquin, she proudly lifts her huipil blouse to show a plaster body with a hammer and sickle painted on her chest, and an unborn baby drawn on her stomach.
“For me, it is very important to underline that it was through creativity that she also managed her handicaps, that she did not allow herself to be defined by these handicaps but that she defined who she was in her own terms,” Henestrosa explained. “It’s very beautiful to see how these corsets become an extension of her body and works of art in their own right.”
On the ground floor of the museum, a capsule exhibition from Thursday to December 31 examines Kahlo’s influence on contemporary designers, including Rei Kawakubo for Comme des Garçons, Jean Paul Gaultier, Riccardo Tisci for Givenchy, Maria Grazia Chiuri for Dior and Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel.
The French fashion house, which supports the exhibit on an exclusive basis, noted that Kahlo inspired Lagerfeld for its Spring 1993 ready-to-wear campaign and an editorial for German Vogue in March 2010, both featuring starring Claudia Schiffer. Presented in a slideshow at the entrance to the exhibition, the images are sure to spark debate.
“It’s an interpretation. It will be controversial for some people because she’s a white model and it’s kind of a hijacking,” Henestrosa said. “But the materials exist. The materials are there to be interpreted by the public.
Known for her wicked sense of humour, Kahlo might have been amused by the idea of a hulking German model made up in her likeness, if only because he exemplifies the endurance of the myth that she created.