Art, Culture and Controversy: ‘The Complete Frida Kahlo’ Exhibit
If you go
■ What: ‘The Complete Frida Kahlo’ art exhibit
■ Where: NTC Liberty Station, Barracks 3, 2765 Truxtun Road, Point Loma
■ Hours: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, Sunday; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday; through Jan. 19
■ Tickets: $14.50-$16.50
■ Website: thecompletefrida.com
■ Tips: Allow two hours for viewing; you can get tickets at the door. If you like audio tours, this one’s worth the extra $5, or borrow or buy the $2 catalog with the same information.
By Lonnie Burstein Hewitt
The word “icon” is much overused these days, but it certainly applies to the Mexican artist Frida Kahlo (1907-1954), a cultural icon whose fearlessly personal self-portraits have made her face known around the world.
She’s currently on view in Reno (“Her Photos”) and in Paris (“Art in Fusion”), side by side with her husband, painter/muralist Diego Rivera (1886-1957).
Now, at NTC Liberty Station, there’s “The Complete Frida Kahlo: Her Paintings. Her Life. Her Story.” It’s a special exhibition of replicas of 123 of her paintings and more than 500 pieces of her clothing, jewelry and furniture, plus dozens of photographs documenting the 47 years of her pain-passion-politics-and-painting-filled life.
Curated by the owners of The Kunstmuseum Gehrke-Remund in Baden-Baden, Germany, and presented by Global Entertainment Properties in Los Angeles, the exhibit promises Frida-fans a total-immersion experience, and offers a two-story display of full-scale, licensed reproductions, hand-painted by a quartet of unidentified Chinese artists commissioned by a multi-national couple who are Frida-fans themselves.
How it all began
Hans-Jürgen Gehrke and Mariella C. Remund founded their Kunstmuseum in the town where Kahlo’s German-born father was raised, as a tribute to the Mexican painter whose work they loved.
Gehrke’s field is business organization and marketing. Dr. Remund, the museum’s chief curator, has lived and worked in China since 2003, has a background in “strategic management, branding and neuro-marketing,” and became experienced in “materials science” during her years as a high-level executive for Dow Chemical in Germany.
Both enamored with Mexican culture, they amassed an extensive collection of photos of Frida’s work, and visited the Blue House, where she was born, lived and died, many times.
In 2008, they managed to get a license from the Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo Museums Trust to make replicas of Frida’s paintings, which enabled them to create their Kahlo-centered Kunstmuseum. (See “About Replicas” on next page)
“Baden-Baden is too small for Frida,” said Gehrke, as he walked through the exhibit. “We want to share her with a bigger community now.”
Last year, he and Remund began a “strategic partnership” with Global Entertainment Properties, a company that has produced touring exhibitions of “Star Trek” and “Titanic.” They commissioned a new set of replicas, put their own set in storage, shut down their museum, and shipped their collection of Frida artifacts to San Diego for The Complete Frida’s North American premiere.
“Most museum exhibits are very left-brain,” Gehrke said. “We want our exhibit to touch your right brain, your emotions, your heart. We want you to see the whole story of Frida, her cultural environment, the people in her life, the furniture she’d have had.”
Some members of San Diego’s art community have protested that ads for “The Complete Frida” fail to emphasize that Kahlo’s actual paintings are not on display.
Alessandra Moctezuma, gallery director and Professor of Fine Art at Mesa College, had this to say: “What would Frida, who was a communist, think of corporate interests commercializing her work, Chinese craftsmen paid who knows how little to replicate her paintings?
“Can you imagine a complete Dali or a complete Picasso exhibit that was all of replicas made by Chinese craftsmen?
“As someone who teaches Museum Studies and about standards and the importance of authenticating a work and knowing its provenance, I just can’t promote this presentation of fakes.”
My Frida Kahlo ‘Experience’
My husband and I saw the exhibit on Nov. 2, the Mexican Day of the Dead, an appropriate time for a Frida Kahlo experience. I admired the look of the show, and the range of it, the re-creation of Frida’s rooms, the haunting music of “La Llorona.”
I saw pictures I’d never seen before, including a striking one of Frida’s imagined birth, which happens to be owned by pop star Madonna. I learned that from the catalog, whose informative anecdotes I enjoyed. But I felt something missing in the paintings. You can replicate an artist’s colors and technique, but not her soul.
Other visitors to the exhibit, locals and tourists, didn’t seem to mind.
“I’m so excited to see this, and it’s all so beautifully laid out,” said Alita Hetland, of Mission Valley. Her friend, Janet Millian, who came down from Costa Mesa for “Frida,” echoed the enthusiasm. “You can really feel her presence here,” she said.
Another enthusiastic visitor was Leonor Webb, originally from Mexico. “I studied visual arts at UCSD, and I’ve always been interested in Frida’s work,” she said. “I even have two dogs named Frida and Diego! And it’s nice to get to see all these things in one place.”
The Oxford Dictionary defines art as “the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.” Is “The Complete Frida” an authentically artful experience? See it and judge for yourself.
■ A replica is the repetition of the original work either made by the artist or, after the artist’s death, authorized by the holders of the artists’ rights.
■ A replica must represent 100 percent of the original. Replicas have a legal connotation (it is authorized) and a quality connotation (it is a faithful repetition of the original).
■ Frida Kahlo painted her life; her paintings are like an autobiography on canvas. To understand her life, it is essential to be able to see all of her paintings. However, some of her originals are not allowed to leave Mexico, and some are privately owned, scattered around the world, and never loaned for exhibitions.
■ ‘The Complete Frida Kahlo’ exhibition shows all of her paintings for which there is documentation in color. It allows visitors to follow her entire life, from the very beginning as a hobby-painter to her last works before she died. This is only possible with replicas.
■ Four Chinese artists with outstanding technical and creative skills replicated Frida Kahlo’s work in 2008-2009. The curators would have loved to have the replicas made in Mexico, but they worked and lived in Beijing, so they selected artists there.
— Excerpted from thecompletefrida.com
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