DENVER (CBS4) – A new exhibition celebrating the work of influential artists Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera opens at the Denver Art Museum on Sunday, examining the Mexican Modernism movement after that country’s revolution. The work of other trailblazers, local artists, and pieces in the museum’s collection will also be a part of the show.
“Frida and Diego were at the center of the circles of influence,” said Becky Hart, the Vicki and Kent Logan Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Denver Art Museum. “It was this confluence of ideas and support that caused Mexican Modernism to flourish.”
The exhibition will have 150 pieces, including more than 20 works of art by Kahlo — a rare opportunity for people in Colorado to see in person. Many of the paintings come from the Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection. This is a traveling show but the DAM team added to it, creating a unique experience in Denver.
“I think the big surprise will be all the other works, because we want to tell a much fuller story of Mexican Modernism,” Hart told CBS4 inside the exhibition. “We also tell the story of the women in these circles of influence.”
Kahlo and Rivera were instrumental in the identity of modern Mexico but their influences came at different times. The world appreciated Kahlo after her life, while Rivera was among the three most prominent artists of his life. She had shows in Paris and New York in the 1930s but did not have one in Mexico City until 1953.
“Frida Kahlo was not a famous artist in her day,” she said. “Over the years, Frida’s fame has grown, particularly because as a population we’ve embraced other ways of expressing ourselves.”
The show also features a look at the style of dress Kahlo wore as an indigenous woman. In one photograph, you see a typical dress of Oaxaca with an ancient figure dating back to 1000 B.C.E. But she also wore high fashion couture and was featured in Vogue Magazine in 1937. Replicas of her traditional outfits will also be a part of the exhibition.
“We as contemporary designers have always tried to keep that link with our past and with our origins,” said Ignacio Cadena, the creative director of Cadena Concepts & Content Design. “We wanted to create this environment that was meaningful, in first of all, a very subtle and metaphoric way.”
Cadena and Hector Esrawe worked together on an installation for DAM and have teamed up on another exhibition of Kahlo and Rivera in Atlanta. They are the designers for this show, hoping to enhance how people experience the pieces.
“It’s such a strong influence in our culture, it’s part of our heritage,” he told CBS4 on a video conference call from Monterrey, Mexico. “The modernist movement that began in Mexico and that has become a part of something that runs in our veins.”
The layout had to be amended for concerns around COVID-19. Guests will need to wear masks and practice social distancing while inside the museum. It is operating on a variance at a fraction of its total capacity. But even with those restrictions, there is still a look and feel that pays tribute to the homeland of Kahlo and Rivera with open spaces, bright colors, and narrow pathways.
“As you walk through the exhibition, you’ll be aware of spatial organization that is very similar to what you experience in Mexico,” Hart said.
The couple attracted people of many backgrounds including politicians, philosophers, patrons, and fellow artists. Their influence crossed many circles in their lifetime, and continued long after in the works of others, some who will be on display in the exhibition.
“Her photography that shows the everyday life of Mexico and sort of the mystical spirit of the people,” Hart said of another artist in the exhibition.
The growing interest in Kahlo after she passed builds on what we’ve learned about her life. Not only an impressive artist but a troubled woman, who faced many challenges. Struggles she captured in her own work.
“She was a person who suffered many illnesses and used those illnesses to really to become a stronger woman,” Hart explained. “So she’s become an ideal in the 21st century.”
For the museum staff and the team behind the exhibition, it is a chance for more of the world to see the unforgettable role this couple played in shaping the direction of their country and opening the eyes of outsiders to their culture.
“They are Mexican artists that really transformed the way not only a country was perceived but how expression through the arts can really talk about so many layers of society.”
Tickets are now available for the first block of dates beginning on Oct. 25. Another block will open in late November for tickets available between Dec. 1 to Jan. 24.