Kahlo up close: A vast new exhibit looks at the Mexican artist’s life and work

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Photo gallery

Selfie: The exhibit inclues this photos of Kahlo in the Barbizon Plaza Hotel in Manhattan in 1933, with one of her self-portraits.
Close up: The exhibit is an intimate and exhaustive journey through Kahlo’s life, including her indigenous, German, and Spanish roots and her tumultuous marriage with painter Diego Rivera.
Color instinct: Kahlo wore her distinctive Tehuana dresses to express her pride for indigenous Mexican culture.
Height of fashion: Kahlo’s dresses are displayed throughout the exhibit.
Commie cast: Kahlo adorned and painted the casts she was forced to wear while she was recovering from her bus accident. The hammer and sickle reflect her communist beliefs.
Painter painted: Kahlo’s 1941 “Self-Portrait with Braid” shows how the artist fashioned her own aesthetic appearance through her paintings.

It’s a giant show with an intimate feel.

An expansive new exhibit on iconic Mexican painter Frida Kahlo offers an amazingly personal look into the artist’s life. “Frida Kahlo: Appearances Can Be Deceiving,” which opens today at the Brooklyn Museum, brings a host of her private items to the United States for the first time, including her clothes, jewelry, cosmetics, medicines, and orthopedic corsets, which she wore after a bus accident broke her spine at age 18.

The exhibit demonstrates how Kahlo meticulously fashioned her public persona, both in her appearance and in her artwork, according to one of the show’s curators.

“The show expands our understanding of Kahlo by revealing the unique power behind the ways she presented herself in the world and depicted herself in art,” said Catherine Morris.

Among the objects on display are two of the plaster corsets Kahlo wore while in the hospital after her accident. She used a mirror to draw the communist symbol of the hammer and sickle on the front of the casts, integrating them into her wardrobe and making the bulky items seem like deliberately chosen pieces.

The exhibit also shows how she used her sartorial choices to champion the indigenous cultural renaissance known as Mexicanidad, by publicly wearing Tehuana dresses she bought from indigenous vendors in Mexico City.

The curators sourced Kahlo’s belongings from her lifelong Mexico City home Casa Azul, or Blue House, which is now a museum dedicated to the artist.

At the Brooklyn Museum, the artifacts are arranged to focus on different themes in Kahlo’s life, including her communist politics, her turbulent marriage to fellow painter Diego Rivera, and her visits to the United States.

Kahlo visited New York several times, first in 1931 when her husband was commissioned to paint a mural at Rockefeller Center, and again in 1937 when she returned to exhibit her own work. She immediately fell in love with the city, but the disparity of wealth she saw reaffirmed her political convictions, according to the exhibit.

The show also features a surprising connection between Kahlo and the Bard of Brooklyn. A collection of Walt Whitman’s poems, translated into Spanish, was found on her bedside table when she died in 1954.

The curators of the show hope that the display of Kahlo’s work and her life can help to offset negative portrayals of Mexico that are common in American politics, and that it can offer visitors a more accurate picture of Mexico’s vibrant cultural heritage, according to the museum’s director.

“As we see how our neighbors and friends in Mexico are being portrayed here in the United States, the time is now to spotlight more dignified and truthful and celebratory portraits of Mexico’s great history, great traditions, and great culture,” said Anne Pasternak.

“Frida Kahlo: Appearances Can Be Deceiving” at Brooklyn Museum [200 Eastern Pkwy., at Washington Avenue in Prospect Heights,, (718) 638-5000]. Running through May 12. Timed tickets $20–$25, untimed $35.

Reach reporter Kevin Duggan at (718) 260–2511 or by e-mail at Follow him on Twitter @kduggan16.
Updated 11:29 am, February 8, 2019
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