SAN DIEGO -- “The Complete Frida Kahlo. Her Paintings. Her Life. Her Story.” does exactly what the title implies; it tells the story of legendary Mexican painter Frida Kahlo’s life.
The exhibit, presented by Global Entertainment Properties 1 LLC, features 123 exact replicas of Kahlo’s paintings, each recreated in their original size with original materials and hand-painted—by master artists licensed by her trust—in the same style in which she originally painted them.
As a Mexican-American myself, I have always felt a strong connection to Kahlo and her work, even though her time on earth was long before mine and our life’s circumstances are different. But there is something about her style of painting that pulls people in and tells the story — making the connection to Mexican art feel so much stronger to me.
I was naturally excited to visit this exhibit which was the first time I had ever viewed so many of her works in one place. Some of my friends, who I might consider to be “art snobs,” complained that the exhibit only features replicas of Kahlo’s work. This was of no concern to me, though, because I was most interested in being able to see many of Kahlo’s works together, in one place. This would be nearly impossible if it were to be an exhibit of her original works.
The exhibition is situated in a renovated space in Barracks 3 at NTC @ Liberty Station, and has been laid out so that visitors can easily navigate through what becomes a visual history of Kahlo’s life. I opted to take the audio tour, a choice that provided insightful commentary about most of the paintings and other possessions that were on display.
Throughout the show are many of Kahlo’s well-known paintings, along with some of her lesser-known works, many of which have great significance.
One such painting, “The Suicide of Dorothy Hale,” was commissioned by Clare Booth Luce in 1939. Luce wanted Kahlo to create a “recuerdo” (remembrance) portrait of her socialite friend Dorothy Hale who had committed suicide in 1938. According to the audio guide, Luce was “horrified” to receive a painting that depicted Hale’s suicide jump. Kahlo had created a graphic, narrative “retablo” which detailed every step of Hale’s suicide.
“The Suicide of Dorothy Hale” stood out because it was different than the typical Kahlo work I was used to seeing and it gave some insight into her darker side — or was it a cultural misunderstanding?
Another great feature of the exhibit was the display over 500 personal possessions — such as jewelry, dresses and other adornments — all identical to those with which Kahlo surrounded herself with during her life. All the items were handmade using traditional methods, materials and tools. The exhibit even included a re-creation of Kahlo’s famous bed, where she spent much of her time.
These artifacts gave even more insight into Kahlo’s life, how she lived, and sometimes, what her motivations were for painting.
In her painting, “Unos Cuantos Piquetitos” (A Few Small Nips), Kahlo paints the scene she imagined after reading of a drunken man who had stabbed his girlfriend to death. The man told the judge: “But I only gave her a few small nips.” The gory piece includes all of the additions to the painting that Kahlo made after creating it, including the birdcage that hangs from its frame and the knife she stuck into it. Looking at photos of the original work, this piece is a great example of the pains that were taken to ensure the exhibit is as close to authentic as possible.
Winding through the exhibit’s halls, I became immersed in Kahlo’s life, love, and passion, and felt I wasn’t only looking at masterpieces that she created, but actually walking through the beautiful disaster that was her life.
At the end of the exhibit was one of Kahlo’s final paintings, “Viva La Vida” which depicts watermelons. It is believed by some that Kahlo added the inscription “Viva La Vida” and her signature to the painting just before her death in 1954, as if she was “signing off.”
The phrase “Viva La Vida”—which translates to “live your life”—really captures the true essence of the exhibit and Kahlo’s life.
With all the physical and emotional pain she endured, this reminder to live life to the fullest is appropriate. Before leaving the exhibit I encountered a wall painted with the same words—“Viva La Vida”— the perfect ending to my afternoon connecting with Frida.
“The Complete Frida Kahlo. Her Paintings. Her Life. Her Story.” continues through Jan. 10, 2014 at the historic Barracks 3, 2765 Truxtun Rd., NTC @ Liberty Station in Point Loma.
The exhibition is open Tues. & Wed. from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Thurs. – Sat. from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., and on Sun. 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. The replicas of Kahlo’s work were painted by master artists and are licensed by ©Banco de Mexico Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo Museums Trust/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2008. For more info or tickets, click HERE or HERE.
Rick Cervantes is a social media specialist, an LGBT activist, a pop-culturist and a foodie. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Editor's note: This review was originally published on SDGLN media partner Gay San Diego.)