Florida museums highlight Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, and Machu Picchu

WEST PALM BEACH, Florida – Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera – the tormented lovers and heavyweight Mexican artists – are back together. This time in a museum here in West Palm Beach.

Her paintings, a series of photographs and a replica of a Rivera mural are part of two Latin American art exhibitions that this year create an elegant change from the mostly contemporary work at Art Basel Miami Beach.

The Frida and Diego Show at Norton Museum of Art captures part of the modernist movement in Mexico from the 1920s to 1950s, which, according to museum director Ghislain d’Humierès, adds another dimension to the permanent collection of the Nortons of American and European modernism.

A little bit down the coast that Boca Raton Art Museum presents Machu Picchu and the Golden Empires of Peru, a dazzling collection of carved gold and silver ornaments, ceramic jugs and bowls, many of which are thousands of years old.

Andrew James Hamilton, a curator at the Art Institute of Chicago, said the 192 works are among the finest examples of pre-Columbian art. “This is the crème de la crème,” he said in an interview. “These are the kind of works museums around the world are constantly trying to borrow.”

The exhibition was staged like a theater production with dramatic lighting, sparkling crystal glass cabinets and a virtual reality feature that takes you on a steeply sloping magic carpet ride over the roofless ruins of the Inca citadel.

West Palm Beach and Boca Raton are a short drive from Art Basel’s Miami Beach headquarters, and there are plenty of things to do on an overnight visit.

The exhibitions are traveling shows. The Frida and Diego Show was last in Denver. The pre-Columbian exhibition in its first edition in Boca Raton goes to Europe in the spring.

The intensity of the Frida and Diego exhibition strikes you when you step into their wing of the Norton. You look out of a huge floor-to-ceiling explosion of a slightly grainy black-and-white photo from 1934, almost, but not entirely, cheek to cheek, Frida up front, Diego with those irresistible eyes fixed on her.

She admired his boasting and recognition as a muralist and painter 20 years her senior. He saw her raw talent. They burned, politically charged, when they saw a better Mexico in communism. You told yourself marriage would not fence them in.

But it was hard to go. He slept with her sister. She slept with her friend Leon Trotsky. They divorced, married and stayed together until Frida died in 1954 at the age of 47. He was gone three years later.

She painted strong portraits, many of herself. She painted him. He painted them. He put them in a mural and handed out rifles. His lighter hand softened the rough contours of country life with sprays of calla lilies and sunflowers.

The Norton shows 29 of her paintings and three of her lithographs, 20 paintings by contemporaries and 90 photos, including two by Rivera, five by Nickolas Muray, one of her lovers, and nine by her father, Guillermo Kahlo, a professional photographer. Two photos show her in an open coffin at her funeral in Mexico City.

In a self-portrait called “Diego in my head” Kahlo planted a tiny portrait of Rivera on her forehead and framed her face with a narrow oval of pleated white lace covered with long, thin, angled, undulating nervous lines that might indicate a cracked mirror or clanking nerves.

“There’s a lot of energy in there,” said Ellen E. Roberts, one of Norton’s senior curators.

The pre-Columbian exhibition in Boca Raton opens with the oldest of the works, a ceramic jug depicting the head of a revered shaman. Like all the other pieces, it was excavated from a burial mound. It comes from the Cupisnique culture 2,000 to 3,000 years ago.

Usher in bright yellow jerseys start with a four-minute video on the way through the museum and reflect the historical context. A side curtain rises and the exhibition unfolds.

Dimmed, colored spotlights create a shadowy feeling that draws attention to the artifacts, which are placed individually and in small clusters in specially built, tall, angular display cases. The objects glitter in the rays of tiny, point-shaped LED spotlights that are invisibly embedded in the top of the housing.

A stunning set of golden funeral items on a skeleton doll will make you stop: a large, flaming chest covering, a shiny crown and shimmering round discs for the ears.

“You can feel the power of every object,” said Michelle Feuer, director of a West Palm Beach tech start-up, after spending part of an afternoon absorbing pre-Columbian art.

The exhibitions are a natural one-two combination. Both rely on digital advertising. Nikos Sotirhos, a robotics expert in Fort Lauderdale, received an email promoting the Machu Picchu show as he worked his way through the Frieda and Diego show. Once there, he and his wife Alexandra Karava decided to go to Boca Raton.

At the West Palm Beach fair, Kahlo is by far the big draw. “Diego is part of the story,” said Jay Stollman, a musician from Stuart, north of West Palm Beach, as he concluded a visit to the show. “But I think Frida is really the headline.”


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