Mexican Modernism and the Philbrook

The Philbrook’s last exhibition included works from Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera.

In the four years I have lived in Tulsa, OK, somehow I have only made it to the Philbrook Museum of Art for the first time this last month. When my mom came to visit me this semester, I knew it would be a fabulous place to take her. As someone who loves art, I knew I would be fascinated by the pieces curated inside, and my mom was astounded by the architecture of the grounds. Little did I know that within those walls, we would get to set our eyes upon the great works of Frida Kahlo.

The Mexican Modernism exhibit ran throughout the late summer, from July 6 to Sept. 11. It featured the works of artistic couple Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, as well as photographs from their lives. As the Philbrook Museum says on their website, “Mexican Modernism tells the story of two of the 20th century’s most iconic artists, their tumultuous love affair and their shared aim at rebuilding a vibrant national identity in post-revolution Mexico.”

The exhibit was just as iconic and vibrant as it suggests. In every art history course I have taken, a Frida Kahlo piece was discussed, and it was incredible to see the pieces in person. Pieces that I had seen in textbooks and documentaries were suddenly in my college town. It was groundbreaking to have such a monumental artifact in a museum that I got into for free.

Within the exhibit were, of course, Kahlo’s instantly recognizable self-portraits. Featured were “Diego on my Mind” and “Self-Portrait with Monkeys.” These were pieces that made me freeze in place, taking in every minute detail and what it had to share about Kahlo’s story in that phase of her life. The vibrancy of the pieces made them stand out, an excellent use of patterns and colors, but it was how human she made her portraits that made a viewer resonate with them.

There were also reproductions of Diego Rivera’s murals, stretching down the walls of the exhibit so that large crowds could take in every corner with plenty of room to explore. “Man at the Crossroads (detail)” certainly made me look twice. With all of the people painted among large feats of technology and engineering, it felt like a personification of the future. It was the epitome of change and growth.

On display beside the paintings were Kahlo’s dresses. The detailing on these pieces are exquisite, the outfits art themselves from the lace and bodicework to the colors and flowers sewn in as accessories. Every single outfit stood there to tell a story from Kahlo’s past. Deep greens, regal purples and vibrant oranges, the dresses were honestly the first thing I noticed when I walked into the exhibit. An artist can be someone who simply makes art, but Kahlo lived art, embodying it every day in what she wore and did.

This allowed Kahlo to also make art from her pain and hardships. When she was a child, Kahlo was diagnosed with Polio, and later in life, she was in a horrific bus accident that left her with numerous broken and shattered bones. Much of her time was spent in chronic pain, seated in wheelchairs or bed-ridden. She underwent dozens of surgeries and experienced fertility issues. These topics came to light in her pieces, such as “Frida and the Miscarriage (13th proof).” Something specific the Mexican Modernism exhibit did to also highlight her struggles was include over one hundred photographs of Kahlo and Rivera’s life. There were images of the bed she spent much of her time in as well as her wheelchair, crutches and braces. The photographs were haunting, taken in black and white to truly echo through the viewer. This was the reality for Kahlo, and it is astonishing that she accomplished as much as she did throughout her pain.

Outside the museum, the gardens were filled with Mexican flowers as part of the exhibit. Upstairs, the legacy of Frida Kahlo was made obvious through the work of other artists and celebrity photographs. There were pieces that were inspired by Kahlo, motivated by what she was accomplishing and was able to accomplish in Mexico.

Mexican Modernism was a story from start to finish that gave me chills the entire way through, an exhibit that led you through the iconic, colorful, painful and political lives of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. Filled with historical information along the walls that provided context and allowed the viewer to interpret the pieces as thoroughly as possible, it was an exhibit that certainly made you stop to think and reflect.

Post Author: Myranda New