I don’t know when I first became aware of Mexican artist, Frida Kahlo and, if I’m honest, I don’t know what I like more, her paintings or her image – because she was also a work of art – but I do know that I was thrilled when I learned an exhibition was coming to the V&A London and I bought tickets as soon as they went on sale.
I remember my son coming home from school and telling me his class were studying Frida’s work and I remember telling my daughter how much I loved Frida’s floral headbands and months later her presenting me with a handmade headband to thank me for all the lifts backwards and forwards along the motorway to Uni.I have two portraits of Frida, a ‘Frida Catlo’ pin (cats and dogs are another obsession), matchboxes and Christmas decorations all bearing Frida’s image. My DVD “Frida” staring Salma Hayek has been played many times. I believe I’m a little bit obsessed! As you can imagine, I was quite excited about the exhibition, but then again, so were many others.
We had lunch in a nearby restaurant and then rushed over to the beautiful Victoria & Albert Museum. I didn’t have the confidence to ‘dress up’ in my Frida headband but I was so happy to see that other ladies did. One lady in the gardens was wearing a pink outfit with matching pink hair and floral band.
Inside the exhibition rooms lots of women wore pompoms, flowers or fancy headbands. The spirit of Frida was very much alive. It was in stark contrast to many of the exhibits which dealt with her disabilities; polio as a child, the bus crash as a teenager and the subsequent operations that followed throughout her life. French writer, André Breton once described her art as ” .. a ribbon around a bomb”. I felt like this could also be applied to Frida. She said of herself “I have enjoyed being contradictory”.
Her costumes and jewellery were exquisite; seeing her make-up, perfumes and nail polishes was insightful, but I felt seeing her medicines was a little intrusive. Her medical notes lay in a cabinet for all to see and I couldn’t help wondering if that was something that should have been kept private. It felt a little like the exhibition was feeding the beast of celebrity and we, the paying public, were eating it all up.
I learned a little more about Frida Kahlo, her relationships and her life. There are many, many books available telling her story but it really hit home seeing the prosthetic leg, plaster corsets and the body braces she wore. The pain she felt must sometimes have been unbearable and yet she found the strength to paint, she dressed her hair with ribbons or flowers and her body in beautiful clothes and even matched her nail polish and lipstick.
Photography was not allowed in the exhibition so I visited the shop and bought lots of postcards, a poster and some little Mexican figures and I came home with even more respect for the Mexican artist (if that’s even possible).
Now I would like to have a moan about the exhibition, or should I say the curating of the exhibition. At this point I would like to remind anyone reading this that these are my opinions and this is my little space on the internet, so I’m going to voice my thoughts. Someone else might visit the exhibition and have an entirely different experience or point of view. Don’t let my opinion stop you from going.
When we arrived at gallery 38, our tickets were scanned and we were allowed through the door – and this is where my disappointment began. Just beyond the doors was an information panel outlining the exhibition which was being read by at least ten people, the small entryway was almost filled with people arriving, reading at different speeds and causing a bottleneck. We then entered the first room which had framed images lining the walls with information panels that were printed in what seemed like font size 10. To read the image details I had to stand about a foot or so away, but that was not always possible because virtually everyone there was of a ‘certain’ age and probably needed a larger font and was also trying to read up-close. At one point a rather large lady even rested her breast on my arm in order to lean over and get a better view! Bustling for space continued throughout the room so after a while we skipped ahead and entered the next room. To add to the small font size problem, the lighting here was so bad it made it almost impossible to read the information. Even with reading glasses on I still couldn’t focus on the writing.
I understand the need to protect the exhibits from light but I also think there must be alternative solutions. If the flow of visitors were fed through the entrance at 2 or 3 minute intervals it would allow more time and space to study the exhibits. The information panels should be printed on a
MUCH LARGER FONT
and perhaps they could also be illuminated. There also seems to be too many tickets sold for each 15 minute time slot because we were continuously jostling for space and needed to check we weren’t about to step on anybody when we moved along.
The Victoria & Albert Museum is light and bright with ceilings seemingly touching the sky but the gallery where the exhibition was held was dark, claustrophobic and hot. A few years ago I visited the exhibition “Shoes: Pleasure and Pain” and I left with a terrible migraine, probably for the same reasons.
On a positive note, unless you are able to travel to La Casa Azul in Coyoacán, Mexico you may never get the opportunity to see Frida Kahlo: Making Her Self Up and if you are a fan that would be a terrible shame.