May 5, 2000

Frida and Diego, together again at the Museum of Art

By Pablo Sainz

When the Mexican artist Frida Kahlo died in 1954, her husband, muralist Diego Rivera, said that when he died he wanted his body cremated and his ashes mingled with Kahlo's ashes.

Diego Rivera: Portrait of Mrs. Natasha Gelman, 1943, Oil On Canvas, 45 x 60 in., Gelman Collection.

Rivera died three years later in 1957, and, against his wishes, was buried in the Rotonda de los Hombres Ilustres in Mexico City. Although his wish wasn't fulfilled, there's a place where Rivera and Kahlo are closer than ever, at least through their art: The Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection.

The bulk of that collection is coming to the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego, in La Jolla, as an exhibit entitled "Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, and Twentieth-Century Mexican Art: The Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection." The exhibit will be on display from May 14 through September 3, 2000.

Jacques Gelman was a Russian immigrant in Mexico who worked in the film industry. During the 1940's, he and his wife Natasha Zahalka, an immigrant from Moravia, a region from Czechoslovakia, began collecting Mexican modern art. The Gelmans were friends of many of Mexico's greatest artists of the time. The couple's collection of Mexican modern art encompasses several periods, and includes many classic sculptures, photographs and paintings, such as Rivera's "the Calla Lily Vendors." Although Mr. Gelman died in 1986, the collection continued to grow until Mrs. Gelman's death in 1992.

"(The Gelmans) were two great collectors who had a personal vision," said Toby Kamps, coordinating curator of the Gelman exhibition. "The paintings in the exhibit are reflections of that vision."

And what an amazing vision: From the green leaves in Kahlo's "Self Portrait with Monkeys" to the human shapes in Rivera's "Landscape with Cactus," and from the striking images in Manuel Alvarez Bravo's "El Instrumental" to the indigenous influence in David Alfaro Siqueiro's "Head of a Woman," the Gelman exhibition offers a first-class trip through many of the highways in Mexican modern art's map. The exhibition also includes works by other important artists, such as Maria Izquierdo, Leonora Carrington, and Rufino Tamayo.

"This is a very large and diverse, and extremely exciting exhibition," Kamps said. "It represents the explosive developments in art in Mexico."

The highlight of the exhibition is Rivera and Kahlo's art, something understandable, since the couple has become an icon in American and Mexican popular culture.

"Their's (Rivera and Kahlo) is an incredible romantic story, a love affair," Kamps said. "They lived in a very romantic time. It was a revolutionary moment around the world."

Several programs will be presented as part of the exhibition, too. They include a panel discussion titled "The Frida Effect," with several art historians (including Hayden Herrera, author of a famous biography of Kahlo), lectures on modern Mexican art and films related to the Gelmans and their art collection.

Kamps said the museum is doing special outreach to the Chicano, Mexican and Spanish-speaking community in the area. Spanish-speaking students from San Diego State University will be available at the museum to answer visitors' questions and to give tours in Spanish Thursday from 6 to 8 p.m., and and Sundays from 2 to 4 p.m.

The Museum of Contemporary Art, La Jolla is located at 700 Prospect Street. For 24-hour information call 858/454-3541. Admission is $4 adults; $2 students, seniors, and military; children under 12 are free.

Return to Frontpage