Whether you’ve studied Frida Kahlo and her works intensively or she exists as merely a name and notion in your mind, there’s a few concrete things that come to mind at the mention of this prolific and influential artist. She was bold, big, and unashamed of herself or where she came from, in her art, and in her life. The way she painted was at once real and surreal. As she put it, she was not a surrealist, though. “I never painted dreams,” she said. “I painted my own reality.”
If you’re not acquainted with that reality, one of the best ways to get an intimate look at the artist and her incredible life and works is to head out to College of DuPage’s McAninch Arts Center and Cleve Carney Museum of Art for their brand new exhibit–Frida Kahlo: Timeless. This expansive exhibit features 26 works on loan from Museo Dolores Olmedo, the museum that boasts the largest collection of the painter’s works, and a treasure trove of artifacts that give more context and depth to those works in a historical and interpretive look at her life that’s unforgettable.
Kicking off your journey into Kahlo’s life is a photographic timeline that looks at Kahlo’s life from birth until death. If you’ve not had the experience of studying her life and how it gives context to her work, this is a deep dive, second only to a lecture. If you’re unfamiliar, Kahlo’s life was hard from the getgo and only got harder, especially medically, as she had polio as a child, which left her with an uneven gait and one leg shorter and weaker than the other, suspected spina bifida; a bus accident in 1925 almost ended her life, when a steel rod pierced her body and broke her spinal column, leaving her horribly wounded with a fractured pelvis, collarbone, fractured ribs and a broken leg and foot. She was declared hopeless on the scene, but thanks to her then boyfriend was taken to a hospital. These injuries resulted in a multitude of surgeries and resulted in long periods of necessary bed rest.
Incredibly, this is where Kahlo’s painting career began–some of her first and best known works are from this first period of convalescence after the accident, and though the accident left her even worse off than her pre-existing conditions did, often requiring a need for plaster or metal corsets to help her stand and move, and requiring extensive surgeries that would lead to miscarriages and pain she’d carry with her forever. Nevertheless, she persisted, and lived an incredible life. Kahlo was politically active, a style and society icon who celebrated her heritage in her work and life–a vibrant, unstoppable force ahead of her time who unabashedly celebrated herself and her heritage in powerful ways that leave their echoes on the present, fighting for equity and believing in defining relationships by love, not gender. Timeless’ beginning timeline fantastic context that colors the rest of the exhibit beautifully.
As you continue from this timeline into the gallery, you can see how clearly this mixture of pride, pain and hardship translates to canvas. Works like Sin Esperanza (Without Hope) and The Circle which address the chaos and pain in her body so poignantly, and there’s such depth to pieces like The Broken Column and El Aborto which appear so surreal to the eye but are also so clearly the reality of what Kahlo lived with as a woman and a person with disabilities.
Once you’ve gotten the chance to soak in Kahlo’s work, you’ll be treated to Tres Fridas, an amazing project originally at the Bridgeport Arts Center, which is now a part of Timeless, that seeks to reimagine art through the disability lens, and transforms some of the most famous artworks in the world into something new and representative of the disabled community, a bustling children’s area that teaches self acceptance and expression, and a beautiful garden tribute to the artist made possible by Ball.
Frida Kahlo: Timeless was hotly anticipated going into this weekend’s opening, and deserves all the attention it’s already gotten and more. It’s fantastic for giving new context to those who didn’t have it, and for giving those already familiar the opportunity to journey through her life via photographs and artifacts, and of course, to experience these famous works firsthand, and it explodes out into a beautiful, inspiring reminder that art is therapy for the artist and the viewer, and a way to reach out and connect with others in joy, pain and passion.
Frida Kahlo: Timeless opens today and will run through September 6th at the College of DuPage’s McAninch Arts Center and Cleve Carney Museum of Art. You can purchase timed or untimed entry tickets by clicking here and find out more about the museum and the surrounding area in the helpful guide they’ve put together here.
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