Mexican Modernism exhibition opens at Frist Art Museum

The Frist Art Museum presents Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, and Mexican Modernism from the Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection—an exhibition that captures the vitality and expressiveness of twentieth-century Mexican art with iconic works by Frida Kahlo, her husband Diego Rivera, and their contemporaries, including Manuel Álvarez Bravo, María Izquierdo, José Clemente Orozco, and David Alfaro Siqueiros. Organized by the Vergel Foundation and MondoMostre in collaboration with the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes y Literatura (INBAL), the exhibition will be on display in the Frist’s Ingram Gallery from May 24 through September 2, 2019.

This exhibition captures the vitality and expressiveness of twentieth-century Mexican art with iconic works by Frida Kahlo, her husband Diego Rivera, and their contemporaries, including Manuel Álvarez Bravo, María Izquierdo, José Clemente Orozco, and David Alfaro Siqueiros.

Among the more than 150 works on view will be seven painted self-portraits by Kahlo, Rivera’s Calla Lily Vendor, and numerous portraits of the Gelmans, plus more than fifty photographs that provide insight into Kahlo and Rivera’s passionate love affair and how the couple lived, worked, and dressed.

Husband-and-wife collectors Jacques and Natasha Gelman were glamorous and wealthy Eastern European refugees who married in Mexico in 1941, took part in Mexico City’s vibrant art scene, and acquired art mostly from their artist friends. In 1943, Jacques commissioned a full-length portrait of Natasha from Rivera, Mexico’s most celebrated painter. “The Gelmans formed close friendships with many artists in this exhibition, often acting as patrons and promoters of their careers and assembling one of the finest collections of modern Mexican art in the world along the way,” says Frist Art Museum curator Trinita Kennedy.

In the early twentieth century, Mexico’s artistic avant-garde was closely tied to political and social revolution. Following Mexico’s civil war from 1910 to 1920, the government enlisted male painters to produce monumental murals in public buildings. Rivera was a revered figure in this muralism movement and an avowed Communist. “Using art, which could be understood by the masses, Rivera, Orozco, Siqueiros and others helped Mexico fashion a new identity rooted in its own unique history,” says Kennedy.

Rivera’s artistic works, as well as his vocal opinions on the role of art, would shape the development of Mexican culture throughout the first half of the twentieth century. “His depictions of Mexican traditions and everyday life soon came to epitomize Mexican culture at home and abroad, including the United States where he created murals in San Francisco, Detroit, and New York,” says Kennedy. Rivera also created easel paintings representing poignant scenes of everyday life and labor in Mexico, such as Calla Lily Vendor, a luminous painting that celebrates the beauty and strength of Mexico and its people.

The works collected by the Gelmans offer an unrivaled opportunity to encounter the chaotic and creative Mexican art world of the first half of the twentieth century in all its complexity. Modern Mexican art exerted a key influence on modern art in the United States, and its impact continues to be felt throughout the world today.