Why is Frida Kahlo’s work important? She was like that the most recognized Mexican artist in the world

  The image of Frida Kahlo is ubiquitous. Her face and some of her works are easily recognized around the world and her image has been so promoted in all kinds of popular culture products that it is easy to lose sight of the true legacy of this Mexican artist. .

Magdalena Carmen Frida Kahlo Calderon was born on July 6, 1907 in Coyoacan, Mexico, to a German father and a mother of Spanish and indigenous descent.

Although she was considered “mestizo,” meaning a person of mixed European and indigenous descent, she closely identified with her indigenous heritage and loved the Mexican people.

He was born at the gates of the Mexican Revolution and grew up in the political chaos that led to the end of the nearly 30-year dictatorship and the establishment of a constitutional republic. So much so that for many years, Frida said that she was born in 1910, to be identified as a daughter of the Revolution.

For many, Kahlo is considered an artist ahead of her time, a visionary and even a rebel who revolutionized culture not only through her painting, but also with her foray into politics, her sexual freedom, and the transgression from her body. and diseases.

“Her personality has been adopted as one of the flags of feminism, disability, sexual freedom and Mexican culture,” says a profile of her from the Frida Kahlo Museum.

“It is one of the emblems of our nation, of Mexico, both in the artistic part because of its painting, because of its unmistakable original artistic legacy,” Armin Gomez, a dramatic literature researcher and screenwriting professor at the Technological University of Monterrey.

“Frida has a rebellious, rebellious attitude, different from what was expected of a woman of her time, and of course, with the terrible fortune of the suffering she experienced…”, added Gomez. “But beyond that, her attitude to get over it and to go above her personal and historical situation.”

Frida Kahlo’s work “Raices” fetched US$5.6 million in 2006.

Frida, her personal life

From the age of six, Kahlo began to fight for her life. At that young age she fell ill with polio, which, according to a Frida Kahlo Museum biography of her, left her with one leg shorter than the other.

In 1925, when she was 18 years old, a terrible traffic accident left her with lifelong back problems. This accident would redefine her life forever, since it was from then on when she, driven by her convalescence, began to capture her first drawings on the plaster, and later, on the canvases that her parents gave her.

“Frida is an icon of popular culture, but also of Mexican culture, of women’s culture, of the culture of the disabled. She is a phenomenon and more,” Hilda Trujillo, general director of the Frida Kahlo Museum, during the celebration of what would be the artist’s 113th birthday, in 2020.

Her marriage to fellow Mexican painter Diego Rivera, 21 years her senior, and who was an imposing figure next to Kahlo’s petite frame, was tumultuous. Her mother, Matilde Calderon, described this marriage as “the wedding between an elephant and a dove.”

Frida Kahlo with her husband Diego Rivera in 1945  

The couple divorced in 1939 and remarried the following year.

Both had extramarital affairs. Kahlo had perhaps one of the most outstanding ones with the Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky, while he was in exile in Mexico.

Trotsky and his wife arrive in Mexico in 1937, surrounded by policemen and Kahlo.  

“At first, Frida was in Diego’s shadow, but very soon she stepped out of it,” art historian Helga Prignitz-Poda of the couple’s avant-garde artistic careers.

And about the importance of her life and work, Trujillo, the general director of the Frida Kahlo Museum, says that it is important to study it “because it can help us a lot at this time, where we need resilience when we feel so fragile. What makes us strong it is science, creativity, our ability to renew ourselves”.

Kahlo, the image and the artist

“More than advanced, she knew how to perceive her historic moment. To be herself and say ‘here I am and society is not going to stop me,'” Trujillo previously told.

But she was not the only one. Frida was surrounded by other “very fanciful” women who were friends of hers, according to Trujillo, including fellow Mexican painter Maria Izquierdo (1902-1955) and surrealist painter Leonora Carrington (1917-2011).

“It was a very important historical moment in Mexico that we must keep in mind,” added the expert.

The art of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera arrives in Russia

Her Tehuana dresses, representing the Mexican matriarchs, represent her personality, together with her figure and image of a strong woman, have endured through the years.

“She was dressed in the Tehuana dress, which represents the matriarch in a certain part of Mexico: the strong woman who fights for her rights, makes her own money. She wants to represent this type of woman,” Prignitz-Poda said.

That matriarchal partnership helped Khalo build an image of herself “as an outisder”: “Independent, but true to tradition, while at the same time embracing a liberated, modern lifestyle,” Circe Henestrosa, co-curator of the film, exhibition “Frida: Making Her Self Up,” which was held at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London in 2018.

And if you look through his portraits, you’ll find a serious woman, with masculine features and a harsh brow looking back from the painting.

“She highlighted her mustache and her knitted eyebrows because they bring a masculine aspect to her personality, and Frida always wanted to be both. She wanted to be a whole human being and not just the sweet wife, so this makes her look so strong,” Prignitz-Poda noted.

“Both in her work and in her daily life -language, clothing, and decoration of her house- Frida sought to rescue the roots of Mexican popular art, and that interest is reflected in her work,” says a biography of hers in the Museum of Frida Kahlo.

The importance of the art of Frida Kahlo

From a very young age, Frida Kahlo was associated with important artists such as the photographer Tina Modotti and Diego Rivera himself, a well-known muralist at the time.

Her greatest muse was probably herself, for throughout her life she painted numerous self-portraits depicting deeply personal experiences in stark detail.

“I think people are mostly fascinated by her paintings: Frida shows her inner life in a very authentic way. And I think there are very few artists who have painted so much of what they really felt,” Prignitz-Poda told.

“There is a certain honesty, and that is what people understand and feel,” he added.

Through her paintings, the viewer can glimpse the darkest part of Kahlo’s world.

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

Curator Emma Dexter in front of “The Two Fridas” in London in 2005  

Unlike surrealist painters, Kahlo said that she did not paint her dreams, but her reality. In addition, according to the Frida Kahlo Museum, the self-portraits have a lot of influence from the photographic portrait that her father, Guillermo Kahlo, worked on.

During her artistic career, Kahlo had a series of international exhibitions that led her to international recognition.

In 1938 he had his first solo exhibition at the Julien Levy Gallery in New York. The curatorial text was written by Andre Breton. A year later, the Louvre Museum bought his self-portrait The Frame, which is the first work by a 20th-century Mexican artist purchased by the museum. He also participated in 1942 in two exhibitions at the New York Museum of Art.

She was also present in exhibitions at the Boston Institute of Contemporary Art, which included her in the 1941 Modern Mexican Painters show, and in 1943 her work was included in the Mexican Art Today exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Likewise, in 1940 he participated in a sample of surrealist artists at the International Surrealist Exhibition at the Ines Amor Mexican Art Gallery.

Among some of his most recognized works are “The two Fridas”, “The broken column”, “Henry Ford Hospital”, “A few little piquetitos”, “The wounded deer”, “Diego and I”, “Diego in my thought” , “My birth”, “Self-portrait with a velvet suit”, “Self-portrait with monkeys”, “Self-portrait as a Tehuana”, “Self-portrait with a medallion”, “Self-portrait with loose hair”, “Self-portrait with cut hair”, among others.

Years after her death in 1954 at the age of 47 due to complications from pneumonia, in the 1970s, a movement called “Fridomania” began “in European feminist circles”, which highlighted her artistic work and, says the Museum Frida Kahlo, had achieved the admiration of important European artists such as Pablo Picasso, Marcel Duchamp, Andre Breton. “Both readings, one way or another, are exaggerated and at the same time, they are true.”

A current sales record

Why Frida Kahlo's works are auctioned in millions?

Kahlo’s influence does not end. And the legend of him grows bigger with the years. So much so that her works have sold for millions of dollars and she is considered by many to be the number 1 artist in Latin America.

“She was the first Latin American artist to break the million dollar barrier at auction,” Mari-Claudia Jimenez, president and CEO of Global Fine Arts at Sotheby’s auction house. This was achieved in 1990 when she sold her painting De ella Diego y yo for US$1.4 million.

In November 2021, that same painting was sold for US$34.9 million.

“Frida in particular is a global cultural icon,” Jimenez said. “This status as an icon is what has really driven this extraordinary result” at art auctions.