Russia’s first-ever Frida Kahlo retrospective has opened in St Petersburg at billionaire Viktor Vekselberg’s private Faberge Museum. And the Russian crowds have come out in force to see the work of the Mexican artist, wife of Diego Rivera and one-time lover of the Bolshevik revolutionary Leon Trotsky installed in the opulent ballroom of the former tsarist Shuvalov Palace.
Despite Kahlo’s Leftist leanings, her paintings had never been seen in Soviet Russia. Vladimir Voronchenko, the director of the Faberge Museum and chairman of Vekselberg’s cultural and historical foundation, said he was surprised and pleased at how receptive today’s Russian public is to her work. “She is not the easiest artist to understand,” he said.
Many visitors posed smiling in front of the show’s centerpiece, The Broken Column, Kahlo’s 1944 self-portrait in which she expresses the physical and psychological pain that followed a crippling bus accident.
Frida Kahlo, My nurse and I
Frida Kahlo, Diego and I
Frida Kahlo, The Circle
Frida Kahlo, Still Life (for Samuel Fastlicht)
Frida Kahlo, Without Hope
Frida Kahlo, Henry Ford Hospital
Frida Kahlo, The Broken Column
“Frida Kahlo: Paintings and Graphic Art From Mexican Collections” (until 30 April) includes 35 paintings, drawings and lithographs, as well as over 100 photographs of Kahlo’s life on loan from the Museo Dolores Olmedo Patiño in Mexico City, the Arvil Gallery, and the collection of Juan Coronel Rivera, Diego Rivera’s grandson. Voronchenko told The Art Newspaper how difficult it was to assemble any Kahlo exhibition, because loans of her work are highly restricted.
“After Frida Kahlo’s work was declared a national treasure in 1984, the [Mexican] government banned the transportation of more than ten Frida Kahlo paintings at a time in one vehicle,” he said. “It was very complicated logistically, we had to transport 35 paintings in four planes and likewise in four cars, plus by law there have to be escorts from door to door.”
Voronchenko said it had taken a year to prepare the show but objected to suggestions that the Faberge Museum, which opened in 2014, had the money to beat out other Russian institutions. “There is always competition in the exhibition business, as in any other business,” he said.
The State Hermitage Museum told The Art Newspaper that it had been thinking of holding a big Kahlo show, possibly in 2017. It recently held an exhibition of Kahlo’s Self-Portrait with Monkey (1945), also from the Museo Dolores Olmedo Patiño. The painting left Russia briefly, only to return for the Faberge Museum show.
Ekaterina Lopatkina, the deputy director of the Hermitage’s contemporary art department who organised the Faberge Museum’s show, told reporters: “Those who come must first of all remember that this is a chance to see Frida as she really was, not a legend and not a photograph from a fashion magazine.