MoLAA Brings Frida Kahlo to Long Beach

  • 03/12/2014
  • Reporters Desk

By Andrea Serna, Arts and Culture Writer

The Museum of Latin American Art, MoLAA, is set to unveil what may be the most important exhibition in their history.

Frida Kahlo, Her Photos, 247 images culled from Frida Kahlo’s personal Casa Azul archive in Mexico City opens to members, March 15,. The photos offer insight into Frida’s daily life, showing her with family, friends and at work, painting. They provide a stark contrast to the collective image of Kahlo that has been largely generated by her self-portraits.

A little-known side of the artist and lifelong resident of Coyoacán, Mexico is revealed in this exhibit. The collection of photographs in this exhibition reflect Kahlo’s tastes and interests, the experiences she shared with those close to her, and her complicated and also electrifying personal life. Viewers get a look, not only through the photographer’s viewfinder, but also through the annotated writing found on the back of many of the photographs.

Kahlo is one of the most recognizable Mexican artists, known for her surrealist paintings as well as her turbulent marriage to Diego Rivera. The two artists lived in post-revolutionary Mexico, an environment infused with political and creative turmoil.

Kahlo lived her life as art. Her esthetic permeated her home and all these elements are evident in her personal photo collection.

The excitement at the museum reverberates throughout the building.

Designer Thomas Hartman has been hired to redesign the interior exhibit space with the objective of referencing Kahlo’s iconic Casa Ázul. Walls have been moved and painted in the vibrant colors that surrounded the artist in the house where she was born, lived and eventually died. Hartman and Museum Director Stuart Ashman took great care to bring the feeling of Casa Azul to MoLAA. Ashman even visited Kahlo’s home in Mexico to view the colors and layout in an effort to stay true to the authentic feeling of her residence.

My own visit to Casa Azul dates to the late 80s, prior to the citywide fervor that hit Los Angeles during her early exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. At that time, she was still known as the tormented wife of Diego Rivera. The vibrant blue walls enclosed a hidden life. The memory of the assassination of her lover Leon Trotsky was not deeply buried in the forgotten past. Photos of her revolutionary activities covered the walls. A back brace, worn to support her broken spine sat covered with painted images reflecting her relentless pain.

“We understand that Frida Kahlo is an icon, and there is a lot of interest about her life.” Ashman said. ”This is really more about her life than about her work. These are the photographs that she made and the photographs she collected.”

This photo collection is permanently housed in the Frida Kahlo Museum at Casa Ázul. Visitors will find themselves immersed in the life of the bohemian artist and her infamous circle of friends and lovers.  Many of the photographs in the collection include self-portraits of her father, Guillermo, a professional photographer who taught his daughter how to use the camera. He considered his daughter the brightest of his five children. In Frida he recognized his own intellectual curiosity and independence.

Exhibition curator Pablo Ortiz Monasterio says Frida Kahlo always had a special relationship with photography. Frida had been photographed since she was a little girl.

“I knew the battlefield of suffering was reflected in my eyes,” she wrote about photography. “From then on I started to look directly into the lens, without blinking, without smiling, determined to show that I would be a good fighter until the end.”

Other photos in the collection were taken by prominent photographers – some of Kahlo’s close friends -Manuel Alvarez Bravo, Tina Modotti and Nickolas Muray, among others.

The exhibit marks a major shift towards a new phase in the history of the museum.

In 2013, MoLAA operated under a tight budget as they focused on their permanent collection in order to regroup financially. Despite gloomy predictions of failure, the exhibitions proved to be artistically successful. Loteria and Intersections both creatively displayed the museum’s collection. Curators Idurre Alonso and Gabriella Martinez provided a new insight into the much loved, but frequently maligned collection of founder Dr. Robert Gumbiner.

Now in his second year, CEO Stuart Ashman is enthusiastic about the year ahead.

“This year we are going to go all out,” Ashman said. “We are going to do another permanent collection show. We are also doing an exhibit funded by Bank of America. It is called Mi Querido Mexico, a show of photographs by Manuel Carillo. We will be publishing an exhibition catalog for that show…. Then we are doing a contemporary show from Guatemala, called Transversal Paths. In the fall we will have a major show of the Cuban artist Segura.”

During this recent period of budget constraints the museum worked on building the board of directors, increasing attendance and growing membership. Ashman believes the museum is creating strong relationships in the community and working on reaching out to the greater Los Angeles area.

Recently MOLAA was awarded a $75,000 grant from the James Irvine Foundation that will allow the museum, in the next 18 months, to utilize executive coaching, organizational consultants and staff training to strengthen internal leadership and governance.

In the meantime, the museum is expecting thousands of visitors on the first weekend of the Frida Kahlo show. Sunday, March 16 is Target Free Sunday at MOLAA. Open free to the public, the day is a celebration of International Women’s Day. There will be a performance by Ballet Folklorico Raices de Mexico. Also on the schedule is a conversation with Hilda Trujillo, Director of the Frida Kahlo Museum. A Frida look-alike contest will bring an added layer of fun to the activities.

Venue: Museum of Latin American Art
Location: 628 Alamitos Ave., Long Beach

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