Love & Revolution reminds us how Anglo-American we are in our view of modern art

This exhibition at the Art Gallery of South Australia is more than just a Frida-Kahlo-love-in.

These are just two of the many fabulous contemporary artists whose work isn’tisn’t well-known outside Mexico. It is a reminder of how Anglo-American our conception of art is.

Enigmatic self-portraits

Kahlo is an exceptional woman. Self-portraits like Self-portrait With Monkeys (1943), which are enigmatic, can draw viewers in. Her introspection transfers itself to her audience.

Frida Kahlo was born in Mexico City in 1907 and died in Mexico City in 1954. Self-portrait, with Monkeys 1943, Coyoacan Mexico, oil on canvas 81.5 x 63cm; The Jacques and Natasha Gelman collection of 20th Century Mexican Art and Vergel Foundation.

She suffered polio as a child. She then had her sights set on a career in medicine when it was thwarted by a shocking bus accident, followed by long periods of rehabilitation.

It is this well-known tale that frames her as an artistic figure. This may explain why, in her self-portraits (always of her upper body), she conveys a unique strength and determination.

She dresses in the native Tehuana clothing of her ancestors to make a political and personal statement. The long skirts hide her legs, which are distorted due to polio.

The re-creation in the exhibition of her bedroom and four-poster beds is not necessary. It is an homage to her willpower.

Photos in the space could have made a more gentle point about her disability.

Juan Guzman was born in Cologne, Germany, in 1911 and died in Mexico City in 1982. Frida holding a mirror at ABC Hospital, Mexico, 1950. Mexico City. Gelatin-silver photo, 24.1 x 19 cm. Throckmorton Fine Art, New York.

Artistic vision

The exhibition is a testament to two emigrants who settled in Mexico City, Jacques Gelman & Natasha Zahalka.

Gelman came to Singapore via Germany, France, and Russia; Zahalka came via Czechoslovakia. In the 1940s, they began collecting and commissioning works from this exciting time in Mexican art.

The collection is on display, but some loaned photographs have been added.

Diego Rivera was born in Guanajuato City, Mexico, in 1886 and died in Mexico City, Mexico City 1957. Portrait of Natasha Gelman 1943, Mexico City. Oil on canvas. 115.0 x 153.0cm. The Jacques and Natasha Gelman collection of 20th Century Mexican Art and the Vergel Foundation.

The image shows a small patron surrounded by an abstract field of color and shape, a testament to his love for the avant-garde.

Gunther Gerzso was born in Mexico City on 17/6/1915 and died in Mexico City on 21/4/2000. Portrait of Jacques Gelman from 1957, Mexico City oil painting on canvas. The Jacques and Natasha Gelman collection of 20th Century Mexican Art. Vergel Foundation. L/FK/1-161.

A fascinating exhibition

From 1923 to 1939, Mexican artists painted murals in order to promote a sense of national identity.

To convey his power and intensity, two of Rivera’sRivera’s murals that valorize the working class have been photographed across large wall spans.

The video Dialogue with Me (2001) by Japanese artist Yasumasa Murimura has a fascinating side.

He is known for adopting the persona or signature artworks of important artists in art history, such as Van Gogh and Vermeer.

He performs here as Kahlo dressed in her distinctive clothes, playing the piano, and conversing with her.

In these conversations, perhaps he’she’s bringing out the inner self Kahlo controls so well in her portraits.

Photo: Saul Steed. Installation view of Frida & Diego Love & Revolution at the Art Gallery of South Australia in Adelaide.

Tansy Curtin has crafted a beautiful exhibition that beautifully weaves around Kahlo’sKahlo’s and Rivera’sRivera’s drawcards to show the breadth and depth of modern Mexican art. She places it in its cultural and political context.

The exhibition catalog, with its Rivera mural fold-out, is a valuable tool. The inspired architectural design, complemented by wall-sized images of the murals, the artists’artists’ studios, and courtyards, lifts the photos to a whole new level.

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