SFMoMA gets up close with ‘Frida Kahlo’

“Frida Kahlo” at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art reveals the personal side of the Mexican artist whose life has taken on mythical proportions.

On display through Sept. 28, the exhibit’s 50 paintings from throughout the artist’s career are accompanied by portraits of Kahlo taken by leading photographers of the era. Family snapshots andimages of Kahlo and her husband, muralist Diego Rivera, taken with luminaries the likes of Leon Trotsky also are on display.

The show’s centerpiece, however, is Kahlo’s illuminating, haunting, surrealistic self-portraits — painted between 1926 and her death in 1954 — in which the artist publicly displays her emotional and physical personal demons as well as her dissatisfaction with the world at large.

Curated by Hayen Herrera, an art historian considered Kahlo’s definitive biographer, the exhibit’s descriptions tell the stories behind many of the paintings. They explain how what Kahlo put down on metal or canvas reflected what was happening in her life, particularly her tempestuous marriage with Rivera, and her growing health problems.

For example, “The Two Fridas” (1939), a powerful, large double self-portrait, has one Frida in a Tehuana dress, another in Victorian dress. The native woman represented the one Rivera loved, the person in white, the woman Rivera abandoned.

In several paintings, Kahlo is incapacitated in bed (she began painting after surviving a near-fatal bus accident) and seems Christ-like in one called “Self Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird.”

Some paintings offer a sense of power, peace or simple, straightforward beauty. Among the more popular pieces she sold during her life were still lifes and commissioned portraits of prominent people.

One room in the show is devoted to Kahlo and Rivera in San Francisco, where the pair spent pivotal time.

The exhibit is remarkable for its intimacy; with its many self-portraits, viewers get a feeling of being surrounded by Kahlo looking at them.

IF YOU GO

Frida Kahlo

Where: San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 151 Third St., S.F.

When: 10 a.m. to 5:45 p.m. daily from Memorial Day to Labor Day except closed Wednesdays and open until 8:45 p.m. Thursdays; exhibit runs through Sept. 28

Tickets: $7 to $12.50; plus $5 exhibit surchage; half-price Thursday evenings and free first Tuesday of the month

Contact: (415) 357-4000 or www.sfmoma.org

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