Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo Exhibition Santiago 2009

Earlier this month I went to an exhibition of the various art works by Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera that was on display in Santiago at the Centro Cultural Palacio at La Monera.  The name of the three-month exhibition was Vidas Compartidas.  The exhibition included various paintings, sketches, dresses and personal effects belonging to this dynamic, fiery, controversial, larger than life man and wife . a Legendary couple that together redefined art on a global scale.


No cameras were allowed in the exhibition, even without flash, so there are no photos to share, but I will try to add whatever links I can find to help underscore what I saw.  Again these are not my photos, so all rights remain with the websites that they come from.

Growing up in Mexico and Texas, I have always been aware of Diego Rivera’s work, especially his frescos and murals. In fact, I have seen many of them on visits to Mexico City, but I didn’t remotely comprehend the magnitude of his work or the complexity of the man. Frida Kahlo’s work was familiar in that I recognized the style of bright colors,  indigenous culture symbolism and figures with signature “uni-brow” faces;


but until now I could not have told you much about her or even that she was married to DR. 

La Paloma y el Elefante

As I began to read about the couple before visiting the exhibition, I realized that the depth of my ignorance, especially as a Mexican American, was embarrassing.  The exhibition, and research I did before going to it, opened up a new world of understanding into the dynamics of what they created in the art world, their influence on the political scene in Mexico and the controversies they were part of around the world that included rumors of links to political assassinations, serial infidelity, Frida’s bi-sexual lifestyle, an affair with Leon Trotsky, communism and even links to the Rosicrucian movement in Mexico. 

Diego Maria de la Concepcion Juan Nepmauceno Estanslao de la Rivera y Barrientos Acosta y Rodriguez , known to us simply as Diego Rivera,  was  married to Magdalena Carmen Frida Kahlo Y Calderon for 24 turbulent years, that included a divorce that lasted a year.  (1929 to 1939 and then from1940 to 1954).


Rivera was born on December 16th 1886 in Guanajuato, Mexico and died at age 70 on November, 24, 1957 in Mexico City. Frida was 20 years younger than Rivera, born July 6, 1907 in Coyoacan, Mexico. She died, some say by her own hand, at age 47, on July 13, 1957 in Coyoacan.  The last entry in her extensive personal diary is  “ Espero que la marcha sea feliz y espero no volver.’ Which is usually translated as “I hope the exit is joyful, and I hope never to return.” (This contributed to the belief that she may have deliberately overdosed)

The exhibit covers every aspect of their life together including hand written notes and letters that I found poignant and evocative. Her letters show a warm loving side…beginning with “Diego Mi Amor, or Ojos Mios”  and ending with bright red lipstick kisses.  Others show the pain of Frida’s life… including a famous quote … Bebía porque quería hogar mis penas, pero la malvadas aprendieron a nadar…. I drank to drown my sorrows, but the wicked things learned to swim.” 

As it turns out I happened to go first  into the exhibition hall that focused on Frida . The first thing you notice is the incredible variety and vibrant colors of her clothes.


Then you begin to see that the skirts are all full length.  There are several reasons for that …first she contracted polio at age 6 which left her with one leg thinner than  the other.


It was only the beginning of a very painful life full of tragedy that is would be the crucible where neo mexicanism art was born and would fuel the creative and physical passions of Diego Rivera.

Of the 200 art works that Frida created, 80 of them were self portraits, conceived during long periods of recuperation from 35 operations that resulted from a bus accident on September 17, 1925.  One of the drawings in the exhibition was of one that she drew of the accident.

 She was left with a broken spinal column, broken collarbone,  ribs, pelvis, 11 fractures in he right leg, a crashed right foot and her uterus was pierced by an iron rail.  The reason for the detailed injury description is that in one form or othe,  the injuries would find their way into her paintings and drawings.

The Broken Column

During the three months after the accident, while in a body cast, her mother had a special easel made so she could paint in bed.  Frida is quoted as saying” I paint myself because I am often alone and I am the subject that I know best. “

Some of her most famous works are symbolic representations of her physical pain, miscarriages and especially her sexuality and the emotional turmoil during her time with DR.
I have to say that the works at the exhibition were stark… particularly the one representing her miscarriages.  It was almost impossible for me to look at it very long. Not so much gruesome, just powerful and for whatever reason it hit an uncomfortable  chord for me.  Frida is quoted as saying “ I never painted dreams, I painted my own reality.

 Some of her other works, like the portrait of Luther Burbank were fascinating in their complexity and because in that case the exhibit also had initial  the pencil drawings and sketches of the work… you got to see how the idea was originally conceived and then the final work.  The sketches were the most interesting to me. 


I was drawn to and intrigued by how a few simple lines could create an entire image.  In some cases as few as 12 lines made up the entire drawing ….

Before moving on to DR, a few final key points about Frida. She was bi-sexual and many still photos in the exhibit are of her with various very famous women who are rumored to share that orientation. DR was reportedly unconcerned about her affairs with women, but was violently jealous of her affairs with men. One of her most famous alleged affairs was with Leon Trotsky just before he was assassinated in Mexico.  Trotsky, seeking asylum from the Stalin, lived with the Riveras in Coyoacan briefly.

Self Portrait for Trotsky

Her works I am told fall into a combination of surrealism, realism and indigenous cultural symbolism.  In 1939, her work, the Frame was purchased by the Louvre.

It was first work of a modern Mexican artist purchased by that museum.   In 2001 Frida  became the first Hispanic woman to be honored with a U.S Postage Stamp.

One of the things that I noticed in the various works at the exhibit is that she consistently seemed to have a tough time getting the proportions of her subject’s hands and feet right. That is not uncommon for a self taught aritist.

It was her raw talent that reportedly first drew Diego Rivera to her. She approached him for advice…he took her under her wing. A cliché as it sounds, they began an intimate relationship despite a 20 year age difference.  The married over her parents objections in 1929.  Her  father used to call them the Elephant and the Dove because of the extreme difference in size.


Size difference, aside, by all accounts they could go toe to toe when it came fiery temperaments  and sexual infidelities.  Diego went so far as to have an affair with Frida’s sister Cristina.



There is no doubt that Diego led an unconventional and controversial life. So controversial he actually got kicked out of the Communist Party.
The other exhibit hall focused on DR’s works including sketches of my long time personal favorite mural… the revolution with Emiliano Zapata and other historical figures.


Most people I think would associate him with the the murals of Mexico City, he is in fact one of the one of the original artists of the Mexican Mural Program. A government sponsored program created to celebrate Mexican history which became known as Mexican Muralism. Other artists include Rufus Tamayo and Jose Clemente Orozco. 



Rivera’s first mural is called Creation. He painted it in 1922 at the Bolivar Auditorium of the National Preparatory School in Mexico City.


Later that year he joined the Communist Party and rose through the ranks to the central committee. His works from 1922 to 1922 all had revolutionary themes. Especially the 1910 Revolution. In the sketches I could see the simple but  elegant figures with clear Aztec influences.  



The exihibit also included samples of Cubism works

 and more traditional paintings like that of Delores Del  Rio, Jorge Negrete and Maria Felix.  A very public two year affair between Diego ad Felix led to this painting by Frida.


Once again the sketches were almost as fascinating as the finished works. 

Several times, I could almost see him doodling on a pad of paper or simply blocking out a concept that would later come to life in the form of 5 ton images taking up a city block. 


The photos of him in his studio , where he died while painting , were interesting in the detail of the work environment.
One photo shows him shows him seated with an obvious look of concentration  as he stared at a painting…trying   to figure out if he liked it or what was missing.
There were quite a few surprises for me…there is one painting of Matilde Urrtutia, Pablo Neruda’s third wife,  painted in Santiago that incorporates the profile of Pablo Neruda hidden the woman’s hair.
It was that kind of hidden symbolism that aggravated the world around him and made him the focal point of constant controversy. His work,  In The Arsenal, was interpreted as Rivera having prior knowledge of the assassination of Jose Antonio Mella by a Stalinist assassin.

Even when he wasn’t painting he was a lighting rod for political factions. Invited to Moscow in 1927 to take part in the 10th anniversary of the October Revolution, he was ordered  out of Russia for anti-soviet politics. He was later expelled from the Mexican Communist party. A few years later, a mural at the Rockefeller Center was removed after an uproar because it included a portrait of Lenin. That furor led to a contract to paint a mural for the Chicago’s World Fair to be cancelled.   
Rivera at Rockefeller Plaza

In 1940 he was in the US for the last time to paint a panel mural in San Francisco for the Golden Gate Exposition called Pan American Unity…


I am ashamed to say that even though I lived there for ten years, I never realized I had not one Rivera work under my very nose but two.  The other is a Fresco painted in 1930 for the California School of Fine Art now the San Francisco Art Institute.

Rivera died a couple of years after Frida Kahlo in 1957.

One last surprising fact from the exhibition…Rivera was the founder of the Rosicrucian Grand Lodge in Mexico City.


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One Response to “Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo Exhibition Santiago 2009”

  1. brittany Says:

    thank you for haveing such great pictures available for my school project.

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