The first image that greets you when you walk into the gallery space given over to “Frida & Diego: Passion, Politics and Painting”, an exhibition soon to open at the Art Gallery of Ontario, is a portrait of the pair of artists together. Blown up to life size, Diego Rivera stands proudly, a massive figure, hand resting on his belly, with an amused expression on his face. Frida Kahlo leans into him, both her hands folded around him, her lips quirked up in the slightest smile.
The exhibition, which opens to the public on October 20, is unique for both its beauty and its intimacy. Rather than having separate rooms or exhibitions for Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, guest curator Dot Tuer has chosen to dovetail the two artists’ work. She groups together pieces with similar themes, or ones that were created during the same time period. The artworks are often accompanied by clusters of intimate photographs, both composed and candid, that illustrate Kahlo and Rivera’s married life together.
Also central to the exhibition are the passionate and deeply held political convictions that defined both arists. Kahlo and Rivera were active communists, and their work was deeply influenced by the Spanish, Russian, and Mexican revolutions. From Kahlo’s affair with Leon Trotsky to Rivera’s intense murals celebrating worker’s rights, their politics take centre stage in their artistic output.
The exhibition’s major theme, however, is undoubtedly the relationship between Rivera and Kahlo. It was defined by a need to create, a deep mutual respect for each other’s work, strong and complementary political beliefs, and an abiding love for each other. At one point in the exhibition, statements that each artist made about the other’s work are projected on a wall, many of them disarmingly accurate. Elsewhere, a photo of Rivera peering intently over Kahlo’s shoulder as she works is juxtaposed with a self-portrait that incorporates an image of Rivera. He’s superimposed on Kahlo’s own forehead.
Vibrant, triumphant, and profoundly intimate, “Frida & Diego” attempts to capture something both of the flamboyant intensity of the couple’s public personas, and of the more intimate details of their lives together. It is stunning, moving, and absolutely worth a visit.
CORRECTION: October 17, 11:04 AM This post previously misstated the gender of guest curator Dot Tuer. The mistake has been corrected above.