Threads from the history of Mexican surrealism: the Blue House in Coyoacán and Breton’s protegée as avant-garde antidotes or postmodern devotional objects. The components of the Kahlo cult and its basis in the artist’s own practice of self-fabulation and masquerade, concealment and display.
The first retrospective of Frida Kahlo’s work outside Mexico opened at the Whitechapel Gallery in London in May 1982, organized and co-curated by Laura Mulvey and myself. In fact, it was a joint exhibition of works by Kahlo and Tina Modotti, the Italian–American–Mexican photographer, who herself subsequently became the object of a minor kind of ‘Tinamania’. At that time, Mulvey and I were hostile to the idea of shows limited to the work of a single artist and felt that a contrast between two related bodies of work was more revealing than a self-contained one-person event. We also wanted to display photography on an equal footing with painting. After its opening at the Whitechapel the show travelled to Germany and Stockholm, before going on to the Grey Gallery in New York and, finally, to the National Art Museum in Mexico City. The North American venues were added after the exhibition had opened, as a direct result of its impact in Europe, its word-of-mouth reputation. The effect of this was to introduce Kahlo’s work to the us—more specifically to its artistic and intellectual capital, New York—in 1983, at roughly the same time that Hayden Herrera’s biography of Kahlo came out. It was, I believe, the conjunction of these two events, the exhibition and the book, that sparked off an interest in the us, which later fed into or converged with the enthusiasm in Europe and Mexico to produce ‘Fridamania’: the elevation of Kahlo to cult status.
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