Faces of Frida presents an exciting new vision of what an art exhibition could be. The largest undertaking yet from the Google Art & Culture project, the exhibition presents the most comprehensive overview yet of the life and work of the legendary Mexican artist Frida Kahlo. That it does it online may put art lovers off initially, but if you persist, there are certainly delights to be had.
The exhibition begins with a short biography entitled Who Was Frida Kahlo. The section kicks off with a quote. “Feet? Why would I want them if I have wings to fly?”. The entry was made a short while after Kahlo underwent surgery to remove one of her legs. Despite this, the artist strikes an optimistic note in her diary, even in the face of great pain and discomfort.
This section gives us a quick overview of the key moments of Kahlo’s life – her birth in Mexico City, her struggle with Polio, the bus accident that left her in lifelong pain, marriage to the artist Diego Riviera, and her final pain wracked years.
The biography is accompanied by several editorial features. Alejandro Rosas explains how Kahlo’s work was influenced by the Mexican revolution, Rebecca Fulleylove looks at Kahlo’s relationship with her body and Frances Borzello explores the relationship between Kahlo’s art and her sense of self.
The Mexican artist’s work has often been seen through the lens of the Mexican Revolution but Alejandro Rosas shows that Kahlo was far too young to remember the revolution, coming of age in the years that followed it. This period, an era of fevered nationalism in Mexico, left an indelible mark on Kahlo, shaping the artist’s work and personal politics for years to come.
A film follows. Frida Kahlo Brought To Life By Alex Meade, Ely Guerra and Cristina Kahlo tells the story of an intriguing artwork celebrating the life of the legendary artist. The piece sees Meade paint Guerra into a living art work inspired by Kahlo. It’s an interesting conceit but I’m not really sure if it works.
Another exhibit takes us to Kahlo’s birthplace. The Blue House in Mexico City is now home to the Kahlo museum, with a permanent exhibition celebrating the life and times of the radical artist. However, it comes thrillingly alive here, with tantalising glimpses of Kahlo’s studio, dining room and garden.
The Faces of Frida collection is a seemingly never ending collection of art works, letters, videos, essays, perspective pieces, and virtual tours. There is so much to see, read, and explore, that trawling through the collection can be exhausting. However, there is so much detail and richness, that it is certainly worth it.
The presentation of the artworks themselves is thrillingly. Take Kahlo’s work Two Women. We are first confronted with a close up view of the painting. With one click the perspective shifts so that we are looking at the front of the piece. Another click gives us a different close up. A further click shows an inscription on the back of the work. And so on. The detail is thrilling and the shifting focus ensures that we see details that we would otherwise miss in a regular exhibition.
Highlights of the collection include the Two Fridas with their blood stained dresses and visible organs. The Bus with its chilling sense of the calm before a storm (Kahlo would suffer a catastrophic accident on a bus which would leave her in pain throughout her life) and The Broken Column which depicts a broken Frida after the accident.
The latter shows Frida wearing a corset, perhaps like the metal one that she would occasionally wear to protect her damaged spine, and with nails puncturing her skin. A fractured ionic column has here replaced her backbone. Her gaze is strong and defiant. To emphasis the of the portrait, Kahlo stands in the middle of a barren landscape.
The portrait is a disturbing one but typically for Frida there is something redemptive about the work as well. Frida’s unibrow almost resembles a bird here, a reference perhaps to the phrase. Kahlo is in tears but yet her gaze is strong and defiant. Feet, she seems to say, who need feet if I have wings.
Another highlight is a moving tribute Kahlo’s moving tribute to Diego Riviera. Despite beginning the piece by lambasting her credentials as a writer, Kahlo writes with eloquence and moving honesty.
Kahlo’s diary is fascinating, too. Part written and part drawn, Kahlo’s journal provides a fascinating window into the artist’s innermost thoughts. Despite using the book to record her many physical trials, the strangest thing about Kahlo’s diary is how upbeat it all is. But then, knowing Kahlo, we shouldn’t really be surprised.
Google’s Faces of Frida exhibition gives a dazzling example of what an exhibition can be in the always on 21st century. It may not rival the experience of visiting a gallery, but for scale and insight, Faces Of Frida cannot be beat.
The Faces of Frida exhibition can be viewed here.
For information on other ways to experience art online, please click here.