Frida Kahlo exhibition at Arken

Since I was a teenage girl, I have been fascinated with Frida Kahlos particular beauty and fantastic sense of dress - and she is a very gratifying subject for a girl crush, because of her life long love affair with the camera, and some of the best of her contemporary photographers. There are simply so many images of Frida Kahlo, and for me, as for so many others, her visual persona definitely stood in the way of her art.

Nickolas Muray for Vogue, circa 1939
I never used to care much for her paintings, and knew them from only from endless reproductions in magazines and such. I felt about them, as I do about certain South American novelists: too many parrots and pineapples, too much madness and pain - and not for the temperate Scandinavian (not this one, anyway!).

But the stunning, colorful style and beauty of Frida, the photographers subject and style icon, has kept on intriguing and inspiring me. And that too was art, in a way, and about so much more than looking excentrically pretty. In her clothing she told stories of her ethnic roots, the newfound freedom of her nation, of her views on being female - just to begin with.

Nickolas Muray, Frida in New York, circa 1946

What she was like as a person, seems to be a well established myth as well: I remember seeing the Paul Leduc film in the eighties, and I don't remember much of it, but I do remember Frida as a pained, hysterical teqiula bottle tossing kind of madwoman.

I guess I liked the Hollywood version better: Salma Hayek as a tough, sexy and feisty Frida - not only about terrible physical pain and loss, but about living to the full, in spite of it. It also captured a bit more of the new, liberated Mexico, and of the wild optimism and idealism of the revolutionary set she belonged to - whereas the eighties film was more quiet and dreamy.

The Hollywood film actually got me around to getting a bit more curious about her art, got me to see more nuance, I guess. I thought how great it would actually be to see some of her work, up close, some day.

And for the past months I have had the chance, at Arken, a museum for contemporary art, south of Copenhagen.

They have a very interesting and highly entertaining Frida Kahlo exhibition, focusing on both her art, her endlessly photographed self styled image and her world, so to speak, particularly of course her husband, Diego Rivera. And I like that they have made the exhibition about all of these aspects of her, because with her - it really makes sense.

Giant photo wall at Arken / photo is by Nickolas Muray, Frida at the Casa Azul, 1939

It ends on Sunday, and I finally got around to it yesterday. And it really was an experience to stand in front of those canvases and drawings, and feel them. Because you did. I know I did.

And I could see that I was not the only one. The exhibition has been very popular, and it was crowded as well yesterday, but people were not crowding it in that absent minded cocktail-party-manner you sometimes see at 'must-see' art exhibitions. People (and the guests were really all ages - and the children were genuinely interested) were gathering in front of the canvases, discussing them, discussing  her.

A crimson red wall at Arken

Much praise to Arken for a vibrant and varied exhibition - various walls and rooms were dedicated to different themes that intermingled with her own work; Diego Riveras work, other Mexican contemporaries, displays of her wonderful dresses, her antique jewellery, the many, many photographs of her and her circle - and so on. Some walls were covered in crimson red, green or cobalt blue fabric, and you felt invited to get really close to the objects. There was a relaxed, chatty atmosphere, and you were most welcome to use your camera - really nice for a change. Most exhibits I go to has 'NO PHOTO' stickers all over the place (which people more or less ignore, anyway).

I also noted that an Arken-guide, walking a group of adolescents round the exhibit, used iPads and asked the young people to photograph the works and make their own compilations of images and comments, as some kind of school project. I like that way of getting kids in touch with art.

How children see Frida; from the childrens art room at Arken

Reference to Frida Kahlo's famous house, the 'Casa Azul' in the Arken reading lounge

So all in all a rewarding experience and Frida really did grow on me as an interesting historical character and a truly fine painter.

I started to look at other details in her self portraits than her own mesmerizing face, and were especially taken with her animal portraits. I also loved Diego Riveras pencil drawings, and Fridas portraits of other people than herself - powerful and thoughtful renderings, where she looks for the same - at least that's what I think - in other people, as she did when depicting herself: strength, honesty and mystical clues to the personal myth.

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