I paint self portraits because I am the person I know best
February 25, 2008 4:51 AM   Subscribe

La Real Frida offers beautiful film footage of Frida Kahlo.* Beyond her own self-portraits, some of the most iconic images of Frida are portraits by her 10-year lover, photographer Nickolas Muray.

*Clips of Frida on the stretcher (1:40) and when she is painting her hand (2:24) are not Frida, but from a bio-pic, "Frida Naturaleza Viva."

In addition to his Frida portraits, Muray's work chronicled the glitterati of the era for Vogue and Vanity Fair. The George Eastman House has a 15-page collection of Muray's work, an enjoyable gallery to browse.

See the first major Kahlo exhibit in the United States in nearly fifteen year at Philadelphia Museum of Art between now and May 18, 2008

See Frida Kahlo through the lens of The Lens of Nickolas Muray at the Delaware Art Museum now through March 30, 2008.
posted by madamjujujive (26 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
I should have also included lilywing13's prior mefi post noting the 100th anniversary of Frida Kahlo's birth.
posted by madamjujujive at 4:55 AM on February 25, 2008

Thanks madamjujujive, I never tire of Kahlo. Her life, her work - it's such a powerful, exciting, sad, exotic, challenging and attractive whirlwind. I particularly liked that last little scene in the footage.
posted by peacay at 5:32 AM on February 25, 2008

Hmm. I meant to include a prior Frida post by grapefruitmoon, too, duh.

peacay, I agree - I loved that last scene.
posted by madamjujujive at 5:48 AM on February 25, 2008

Beautiful, I really hadn't realised from stills how beautiful she was.
Laughed out loud at the Youtube comments though as clearly I'm not the only one who thought so:-

"Si Frida no estaba tan fea, si no que estaba mal arreglada. Se ve bien cura y floripondia."
posted by Wilder at 6:03 AM on February 25, 2008

Great post.
She was such a fascinating woman.
posted by caddis at 6:08 AM on February 25, 2008

Powerful stuff.

Watching actual film footage of my favorite iconic figure (as opposed to the thoroughly enjoyable portrayal by Salma Hayek) feels so surreal. My brain is so accustomed to the two dimensional representations (hell, she graces four walls in my home) that seeing her pose with Diego, et al, is stunning.

The difference between her bowed head, leaning into Rivera, and the manner in which she gazes directly at the camera at the end, simply speaks volumes.
posted by squasha at 6:20 AM on February 25, 2008

I saw this show (and the accompanying Murray photos) in Minneapolis last November and they were just *amazing* -- the kind of amazing you can't even fully appreciate until you're right there in front of them. On the same trip, I saw a giant Georgia O'Keeffe retrospective, too. I used to like them both fairly equally, but you know what? The older I get, the better I like Kahlo.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 7:21 AM on February 25, 2008

Great find. It is neat to see her at her digs in Coyoacan. I have been to the Casa Azul. The house, that is now a museum, is incredible, too.
posted by YoBananaBoy at 8:29 AM on February 25, 2008

Girls like her.
posted by fourcheesemac at 8:45 AM on February 25, 2008

I'm sorry, Wilder, I disagree strongly (with your statement, I have no idea what the Spanish means). She was not a beautiful, as in physically beautiful, woman. She was a brilliant artist, her life makes a painful story, but she was not beautiful. In my own worthless opinion, of course. She was interesting and challenging but that's different.
posted by Grod at 8:49 AM on February 25, 2008

Can't get enough Frida "The Trotskyfucker" Kahlo, mjj, though it's impossible for me to be objective about judging her looks as she's so damn sexy.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 9:44 AM on February 25, 2008

The way the word wrap appeared on my screen, the post read:
...images of Frida are portraits portraits by her 10-year
lover, photographer Nickolas Muray.
I admit, I read it as "10-year-old lover." I wasn't sure which was more impressive; that she had a lover who was only 10-years-old, or that at 10-years-old Nickolas was already an impressive photographer.
posted by CitrusFreak12 at 9:47 AM on February 25, 2008

Don't want to to derail,
"Girls like her?" What kind of dismissive snark is that fourcheesemac? Or is that comment an ironic faux misogynist riff?

Thanks for the links, madamejujujive. This is the first time I've seen most of that footage.
posted by stagewhisper at 11:05 AM on February 25, 2008

she was not beautiful

I think this is where we say "different strokes for different folks" and agree to part ways. I think she was stunningly beautiful when she was young, and her art certainly played off of this in a very pointed fashion -- all of those self-portraits, sometimes emphasizing her beauty, sometimes emphasizing her imperfections and damage. In some ways she was sort of a (far, far more talented) Paris Hilton of her generation -- creating and using scandal as a tool for self-promotion, but Frida managed the trick (largely due to her talent, I think) of becoming respected in her own right, not just as an appendage to notable men or for her sexual notoriety.

Also, I had to laugh when watching the clip, because I always forget how much Diego looked like my mental picture of Mr Toad of Toad Hall in The Wind in the Willows as a kid. His art is amazing, though -- far more powerful full-size in person than in small-scale books. Frida is the more interesting personality, but I'll take Diego's art any day of the week.
posted by Forktine at 11:15 AM on February 25, 2008

IMHO I agree with Grod and I think without Diego Rivera she would have died unknown. Kahol embodies the cult of personality, a familiar pattern in which women stop being the artist and become the subject of art, transformed from a powerful creative force to an ideal of quietly suffering femininity, ugh. Kahlo facilitated this process by painting herself as the quietly suffering female, embodying victimhood. Frida was the victim of patriarchal culture, victim of an unfaithful husband, and simply the victim of a horrific accident but she's popular because people like to see women as victims. Kahlo's close friend, the famous doctor Leo Eloesser, believed that she used her many surgeries to get attention from people, particularly from Rivera, and her obsession with Rivera is the antithesis of Feminism.

After the assassination of her former lover,Trotsky, she harshly repudiates him. Kahlo proceeds to becomes a devout Stalinist and continued to worship Stalin even after it had becomes common knowledge that he was responsible for the deaths of millions of people, not to mention Trotsky himself. One of Kahlo's last paintings was called "Stalin and I,"

That the people and country she despised, America, issues a stamp in her honor, reveals the disconnect between the artist and her mythology. Artist may commit moral turpitude, but the truly great artists--Villon or Pound, Caravaggio or Goya--pay for their mistakes and thereby redeem their art and their honor. Diego and Frida are never able to see beyond their own egocentrisism.

In contrast is Georgia O'Keeffe, who once threatened to quit painting if critics kept imbuing her flower paintings with Freudian interpretations. Her relationship with Alfred Stieglitz; who was obsessed with photographing Georgia, is a relationship of mutual respect, with each supporting the others art. Their relationship, both personal and professional is a paradigm.

But what do I know?
posted by Rancid Badger at 11:27 AM on February 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

but she was not beautiful.

Funny, I used to think that too but in those videos she is so incredibly graceful and expressive that I have just completely changed my mind.
posted by ClarissaWAM at 12:28 PM on February 25, 2008

she was not beautiful

Yes she was.
posted by Henry C. Mabuse at 1:10 PM on February 25, 2008

Well, fair enough, to each their own. I actually regretted posting that because, while she was the subject of her own work, her relative beauty was not and my superficial appraisal is not only dismissive but counterproductive, stalling the conversation before it reaches the substantial questions of -- in part -- meaning, image and identity, gender and identity, feminism, politics, love, forgiveness, suffering, victimhood, and so on, not to mention the role of artist in determining the value and importance of the art. In other words, it was an immature and irrelevant comment and I'm sorry.
posted by Grod at 2:49 PM on February 25, 2008

thanks Grod,
you rock!
posted by stagewhisper at 2:52 PM on February 25, 2008

Well, now that you've backed down, I think she was fuck-ugly. Take that.
posted by Henry C. Mabuse at 3:03 PM on February 25, 2008

Whoa. Having seen relatively few photographs of Frida Kahlo, I always assumed that her self-portraits must have exaggerated, in small or large part, her vividness and stateliness--not to mention the richness of atmosphere that surrounded her. This does not seem to be the case.
posted by Powerful Religious Baby at 4:29 PM on February 25, 2008

Or is that comment an ironic faux misogynist riff?

Something like that. I was high on a personal irony trip at the moment. Sorry.
posted by fourcheesemac at 4:44 PM on February 25, 2008

The word I neglected to mention was charismatic.

It's oddly informative how people struggle to pigeonhole her through their assessment of her beauty. You know, that's as sexist as any pole vaulter voyeurism seen around these parts. It may not be the announcement of the rating on the fuckability scale but it remains something of an inditement of superficiality. Or does it become fair game because a lot of her work was self portraiture? Don't forget there is her art too.
posted by peacay at 8:18 PM on February 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

I am not really in a position to comment on the whole beauty issue...I've been likened to her on more than one occasion and even without my recurring Frida halloween get-up, I do see a slight resemblance (sans monobrow, though.)

I've often wondered what an accident of that magnitude, particularly such a freakish puncturing of the abdomen and uterus, at such an emotionally young age, would do to the sanity and identity of any woman, but her work certainly doesn't appeal to me because I "like to see women as victims."

Art's a bit subjective for broad generalizations like that. Personally, I dig surreal art, I dig her technique, and I especially dig the iconic self-portraits for the same direct gaze in the closing shot of the video. Even when she is corset-clad, there is more behind those eyes than victimization.
posted by squasha at 4:33 AM on February 26, 2008

Wonderful, thank you. I first read Hayden Herrera's excellent Frida bio almost 20 years ago and it blew my young mind. A friend subsequently presented me with a colour copy of one of Muray's portraits (the one where she's sitting on a balcony or rooftop in New York, fag in hand.) in an extravagantly tawdry frame. It remains a favourite possession to this day.

While we're on the subject of Diego, I'd always pictured the late Raul Julia as the ideal choice to play him in a movie - it's a shame he didn't live long enough to claim the 2002 role. Although I guess Molina was a better match, physically.
posted by Mrs. Tex Benitez at 6:43 AM on February 26, 2008

Holland Cotter weighs in on the Frida Kahlo exhibition and her detractors in today's New York Times.
Arguing against a multitude of dismissive opinions such as Rancid Badger's above, he states:

I would also suggest that accusations of megalomania derive partly from social biases. Picasso’s art is routinely viewed through the lens of biography, with groups of work said to be evidence of his emotional response to this woman or that, the active element being his genius. Few people seriously complain about this version of art as egomania. Picasso was expanding his creative territory. Kahlo didn’t know how to keep her place.
posted by stagewhisper at 8:31 AM on February 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

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