‘Frida Kahlo & Diego Rivera: Masterpieces from the Gelman Collection’ at the Pallant House Gallery

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artwork: Frida Kahlo - "The Bride who Becomes Frightened When She Sees Life Opened", 1943 © 2011 Banco de México Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums Trust, Mexico


CHICHESTER, UK – Pallant House Gallery is presenting ‘Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera: Masterpieces from the Gelman Collection’. This major touring exhibition, which is in Chichester for its only UK showing, brings together the iconic paintings of Frida Kahlo (1907 – 1954) and Diego Rivera (1886 – 1957), the two central figures of Mexican Modernism, for the first time in this country. Few artists have captured the public’s imagination with the force of Mexican painter Frida Kahlo and her husband, the Mexican painter and muralist Diego Rivera. The myths that surrounded them in their lifetime arose not only from their significant body of work, but also from their active participation in the life of their time, their friendships (and conflicts) with leading figures, their striking physical appearance and spirited natures.

artwork: Frida Kahlo - "The Love Embrace of the Universe", 1949 - Oil on canvas. - Courtesy of Pallant House Gallery, UKTheir work speaks of a fierce loyalty to and pride in Mexico, the ideals of the 1910 revolution and a commitment to the conditions of the common man. Rivera is a socialist hero, famous for his large scale political murals depicting workers and class struggle. Kahlo is a feminist icon, whose self portraits present a challenging view of the female role and address emotional issues of love, pain and heartbreak. On exhibition through October 9th.

The exhibition includes key images by Kahlo such as Self Portrait with Monkeys, and Self Portrait as a Tehuana or Diego in My Thoughts, and the major work by Rivera, Calla Lily Vendors (all 1943). The paintings are supplemented by a display of the rarely-seen photographs by Frida Kahlo’ s father Guillermo Kahlo (1872-1941) depicting churches and cloisters around Mexico City and Tepotzlan, alongside views from the Palace in Chapultepec Park. Their inclusion allows, for the first time in this country, the work of Frida Kahlo to be placed alongside and put into context with the two most important men in her life.

The exhibition is further extended with a selection of photographs by another key artistic couple who offer a significant glimpse of Mexico’s cultural history, the photographers Manuel Álvarez Bravo (1902-2002) and Lola Álvarez Bravo (1905-1993). Manuel famously photographed the Mexican Muralists, and his cinematic images of Mexico speak of the mystery of everyday life and contemporary political and social problems. Lola began taking photographs under the influence of her husband in the 1920s and worked in a number of photographic genres such as nudes, still life, landscape, photomontage and portraits. She was a close friend of Frida Kahlo, and hosted Frida’s first solo exhibition in Mexico in her gallery (Galería de Arte Mexicano) in 1953.

Behind the Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection, widely regarded as the world’s most significant private holding of 20th-century Mexican art, lies the story of two art enthusiasts who saw their acquisitions as a vital way to connect with their adopted culture in Mexico.

artwork: Nickolas Muray - Frida Kahlo on White Bench - Photograph © Nickolas Muray Photo Archives

The Gelman Collection now stands testament to the artistic developments in Mexico throughout the past century, but the country was once foreign to Jacques and Natasha, who were both from Eastern Europe. Jacques Gelman, who was born in St. Petersburg, Russia, in 1909, grew fond of cinema during his youth, going on to later start film distribution companies in France and Mexico. In the late 1930s, he met Natasha Zahalka, an immigrant from Czechoslovakia, while she was traveling in Mexico City. The couple married in 1941, during the height of the World War II. The Gelmans were both Jewish and the war prevented them from returning to the Old World, leading them to instead become Mexican citizens and settle in Mexico City.

Soon after, Jacques found considerable wealth in producing movies starring the popular comic, Mario Moreno, also known as “Cantinflas” Jacques’ success in the film industry enabled the Gelmans to start accruing a remarkable collection of both European and Mexican modern art at a time when there were very few collectors in Mexico.

artwork: Diego Rivera - "Retrato de la Señora Natasha Gelman" (Portrait of Mrs. Natasha Gelman), 1943 Oil on canvas, 115 x 153 cm. Courtesy of the Vergel Foundation, NY.  - © 2002 Banco de Mexico, Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo Museum Trust.

Reflecting the Gelmans’ personal tastes, their collection of Mexican art includes many portraits of themselves, such as Rufino Tamayo’s Portrait of Mrs. Natasha Gelman (1948) and Ángel Zárraga’s Portrait of Mr. Jacques Gelman (1945). The collection also includes self-portraits of artists whom the Gelmans knew personally, including Frida Kahlo’s Self-Portrait with Monkeys (1943).

Throughout the post-World War II artistic boom in Mexico, the Gelmans befriended a long list of renowned artists, including Kahlo, Diego Rivera and David Alfaro Siqueiros. Consequently, their collection of Mexican works reveals not only their passion for art, but also their blossoming relationships with such artists.

The exhibition comes to Chichester for its only UK showing following the Pera Museum, Istanbul, and the Irish Museum of Modern Art in Dublin.

Pallant House Gallery boasts one of the best collections of Modern British art in the UK. donated over the past thirty years, the collections tell the story of a number of individuals, all passionate collectors of art who generously donated their lifetimes’ labours to the Gallery for the benefit of the public. A new wing was opened in June 2006, designed by Sir Colin Wilson and Long & Kentish. The £8.6 million project was funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, Arts Council England, the local council, and other donors. The unashamedly modern block, which stands next to and integrates with the original Queen Anne building, won the 2007 Gulbenkian Prize. Visit :  www.pallant.org.uk/