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Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera: Great Artists, Flawed Humans

Open any art history textbook and there’s a high probability that you will see a painting of a woman with a unibrow and mustache. You guessed it– Frida Kahlo.

Frida Kahlo was a renowned artist and individual. During her teenage years, Kahlo was in a serious streetcar accident that left her bedridden for months. She began to take up painting to fill her long and boring days, and ended up finishing her first self-portrait while recovering. Self portraits became Kahlo’s signature pieces, and she had a good reason for it.

“I paint myself because I am often alone and I am the subject I know best,” Kahlo said.

Another defining part of Kahlo’s life was her passionate and rocky relationship with Diego Rivera. Kahlo was Rivera’s third wife, and they ended up getting divorced and remarried in the later part of their relationship. Both were involved in numerous affairs, yet they continued to come back to one another.

Rivera was a painter and a muralist. He believed that more people than just those who went to museums or art shows should see his art, which was his inspiration to begin painting large murals on public buildings. Kahlo accompanied him while he traveled the United States painting murals of industrial life, and eventually they settled at home in Mexico.

The works of Kahlo and Rivera have molded the art community for years past their deaths, and Arizona residents have the opportunity to see some of their original masterpieces at the Heard Museum in Phoenix.

From now through August 20, 2017, the Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera exhibit will be open to Heard Museum visitors. 33 pieces by the two artists can be found on display, as well as more than 50 photographs taken by Edward Weston, Guillermo Kahlo, and others.

The Kahlo and Rivera pieces are all a part of the Gelman collection. The Gelmans were Mexican-based European emigres and have since passed, but they acquired several of the pieces after being good friends of the artists.

Just like most art, the pieces on display have a deeper meaning than paint on a canvas. Caeser Chaves, the Heard Museum’s Director of Creative Design and Marketing, thinks that the pieces humanize Kahlo and Rivera.

“I think their art shows that they’re just people, they have weaknesses, and they weren’t perfect,” Chaves said.

One of those weaknesses might have been how much Kahlo loved Rivera. She often referred to him as her child, even though he was 20 years older. This odd relationship can be seen in Kahlo’s painting entitled “The Love Embrace of the Universe, the Earth (Mexico), Myself, Diego, and Señor Xolotl.” Paintings like this one earned Kahlo a label she didn’t necessarily agree with.

“The surrelists really wanted to label her [Kahlo] ‘surreal,'” Chaves said. “She kind of resisted that label, but she did morph into someone that painted with much more symbolism as she matured.”

While Kahlo focused on portraying her romantic life in her art, Rivera’s art had a much more political message. He was a supporter of Marxism, which was controversial enough to get one of his murals in Mexico City removed. The exhibit at the Heard Museum portrays these themes in a way that leaves a lasting impression on its visitors.

“There are very few places in the country that rival our collection and the way we present things here,” Chaves said.

Don’t miss your chance to see Kahlo and Rivera in a whole new light through their original paintings at the Heard Museum. Admission to the special exhibit is $7 for the general public, or free for members. Head to the museum’s website for further information.