Frida Kahlo’s Home Is Still Unlocking Secrets, 50 Years Later


A Tehuana huipil and skirt, with portraits of the artist, in “Frida Kahlo: Appearances Can Be Deceiving” at the Brooklyn Museum. Credit Banco de México Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums Trust, Mexico, D.F./Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; Ricky Rhodes for The New York Times


Hard to imagine she once worked in shadow; when she had her first New York exhibition, in 1938, Vogue preferred to name her “Madame Diego Rivera.” For there may be no artist today as famous as Frida Kahlo, now recognizable from Oaxaca to Ouagadougou — with those big brown eyes framed by her notched unibrow, those pursed lips topped by a whisper of a mustache. Certainly no woman in art history commands her popular acclaim.

There is a Frida Barbie. A Frida Snapchat filter (with a suspicious skin-lightening effect). Frida tchotchkes on Etsy and eBay number in the tens of thousands. Beyoncé herself dressed as Kahlo a few years back, trailed by the usual “FLAWLESS” and “SLAY” headlines, and so did more than 1,000 fans who gathered at the Dallas Museum of Art in Frida drag. Even Theresa May, the British prime minister not overly accustomed to celebrating Communists, sported a Frida Kahlo charm bracelet during a major address.

Kahlo in 1926, in a portrait by her father, Guillermo. Credit Guillermo Kahlo; Ricky Rhodes for The New York Times
Julien Levy’s portrait of Kahlo, from around 1938. He gave her her first New York exhibitionCredit Julien Levy; Ricky Rhodes for The New York Times

Yet Fridamania, in itself, was not the only reason I went with some apprehension to “Frida Kahlo: Appearances Can Be Deceiving,” which opens this week at the Brooklyn Museum. The show is largely not an exhibition of the Mexican artist’s work, but a recapitulation of her life through her clothing, jewelry and objects from her home. A version of it first appeared at the Frida Kahlo Museum in Mexico City in 2012, curated by Circe Henestrosa, who also helped curate an expanded iteration at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London in 2018.

The V&A’s most visible recent shows have been lightweight spectacles of celebrity culture. There was every chance, I feared, that this exhibition would follow in the vein of the museum’s showcases of pop stars like Kylie Minogue, Pink Floyd and David Bowie, the last of which also toured to Brooklyn. It turns out to be a more rigorous enterprise than those, thanks in part to its organizers, Catherine Morris and Lisa Small, curators at the Brooklyn Museum, who worked with Ms. Henestrosa. The Brooklyn exhibition deepens and broadens the V&A’s version with new loans and dozens of pre-Columbian antiquities from the museum’s own collection. (Another good addition: The Brooklyn Museum has provided all the wall text and labels in Spanish, as well as English.) The clothes, lent from Mexico City, are fantastically elegant, above all the rich skirts and blouses from the Oaxacan city of Tehuantepec. As for paintings, there are only 11 here, in a show of more than 350 objects.

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More than celebrity relics, the show argues, the clothes are key to Kahlo’s achievement. So are her jewelry and her spine-straightening corsets — Kahlo was in a traffic accident as a teenager, and this show puts a particular focus on her disability. Do her outfits have the weight of art, or are they just so much biographical flimflam? My mileage varied from gallery to gallery, but it’s worth considering, given her admirers’ intense love for her persona, how much can be displaced onto skirts and shawls.

Frida Kahlo Was a Painter, a Brand Builder, a Survivor. And So Much More ~ NYT

The artist and pop culture icon meticulously built her own image. A sweeping survey at the Brooklyn Museum examines how she did it, and why.

Scenes from “Frida Kahlo: Appearances Can Be Deceiving” at the Brooklyn Museum.CreditCreditClockwise from top left, Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo Archives, Banco de México, Fiduciary of the Trust of the Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo Museums; Javier Hinojosa, via V&A Publishing (dress and lipstick); Banco de México Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums Trust, Mexico, D.F./Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; Nickolas Muray Photo Archive; Brooklyn Museum; Brooklyn Museum

By Rebecca Kleinman


Frida Kahlo’s exhaustively documented crossover from artist to pop culture icon isn’t happenstance. The painter meticulously crafted her own image on a par with Cleopatra. If she were alive today, she’d probably be teaching a branding class at Harvard. Now it’s America’s turn to see how, and, more important, why she did it.

Some of the contents of the home she shared with her husband, the muralist Diego Rivera — known as La Casa Azul (Blue House) in Mexico City — will be accessible for the first time in the United States in “Frida Kahlo: Appearances Can Be Deceiving,” an exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum, from Feb. 8 to May 12. Their belongings were to be locked away until 15 years after Rivera’s death, according to his instructions, but the task of unsealing and inventorying them didn’t happen until much later, in 2004. This is the biggest stateside show devoted to Kahlo and a considerably expanded iteration of last year’s exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

The sweeping survey adds greater insight into Kahlo’s collecting habits through works culled from the museum’s vault as well as the New York chapter of her timeline, and includes works lent by local institutions and galleries. The supplementary mix of Mesoamerican objects, one of the many types of art the couple favored, with her paintings and photographs divulge her yearning for Mexico’s indigenous and agrarian culture and her conflicts with capitalism, especially in the income inequality she witnessed during her travels in the United States.

Visitors will better understand Kahlo’s skill in searing her likeness into the public imagination, even if it meant dangling monkeys around her head and cultivating her most recognizable physical traits — a statement ’stache and unibrow. Neither her disabilities from polio and a bus accident, nor her frequent relapses of pain deterred Kahlo. By the time she died at the age of 47 in 1954, she left behind a public persona that is still being mined well into the 21st century; today she has more than 800,000 Instagram followers.

“People have an insatiable curiosity with her, and this presentation is a rare opportunity to see how she built her identity,” said Catherine Morris, a senior curator at the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art, who organized the Brooklyn Museum’s version of the show with Lisa Small, senior curator of European Art. Here, they share some of their insights.

Cotton huipil with machine-embroidered chain stitch; printed cotton skirt with embroidery.CreditDiego Rivera and Frida Kahlo Archives, Banco de México, Fiduciary of the Trust of the Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo Museums; Javier Hinojosa, via V&A Publishing

A mastermind at using fashion to her advantage, Kahlo delivered red-carpet moments wherever she went. “She even dressed that way to work in her studio,” Ms. Small said. Her ethnic ensembles, famously inspired by Oaxaca’s Tehuana, a matriarchal society, dismissed de rigueur looks dictated by Parisian designers and the soulless mass production of clothing. Vogue magazine took notice. Kahlo championed her homeland’s indigenous customs in wearing huipiles (woven tunics), rebozos (shawls) and flouncy, long skirts. They also drew attention away from her polio-ravaged right leg and body casts from several operations after her near-fatal bus accident. She frequently referred to herself as the great concealer.

Frida Kahlo, “Self-Portrait With a Necklace,” 1933, oil on metal. Jade stones in the show are Mesoamerican, from her personal collection.CreditBanco de México Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums Trust, Mexico, D.F./Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York


Besides its feminine allure, jewelry struck a more personal chord for Kahlo. Like her intricate updos embellished with hair ornaments and blossoms, chandelier earrings and bold necklaces drew onlookers’ focus to her face. They were also another vehicle for her to express her passion for Mexican crafts including contemporary silver jewelry and native materials like jade, favored by the ancient Maya. “She most commonly wore gold rope necklaces and Mesoamerican jade stones, which she’d string into extraordinarily chunky necklaces,” Ms. Small said.

A Colima dog figure, 200 B.C.E.-500 C.E., ceramic, evokes the spirit of the collections at La Casa Azul.CreditBrooklyn Museum


In one gallery, the curators set out to re-create the vibe of Kahlo and Rivera’s home. Azure-painted walls and a case of Mesoamerican ceramic and stone sculptures and vessels, from the Brooklyn Museum’s permanent collection, evoke its spirit. The ancient objects convey the couple’s eclectic taste and deep appreciation for Mexican art and archaeology. “They’d have a colonial portrait next to a pre-Columbian piece next to a gas mask from the 1940s,” said Ms. Small, who located a Colima dog sculpture in the museum’s collection similar to those at La Casa Azul.

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Local N.Y.C. bar dies

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A portrait in the Half King of the photojournalist Tim Hetherington, who died while on assignment in LibyaCredit Photographs by Caitlin Ochs for The New York Times


By Derek M. Norman


It was a late-April evening in 2011 when news broke that two photographers were killed by a mortar blast in the besieged city of Misurata, one of the last anti-Qaddafi rebel strongholds of the Libyan civil war.

Calls were made. Texts were exchanged. Word spread that these two seasoned conflict photographers, Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros, were killed in action, and their closest friends and colleagues were meeting to regroup and attempt to digest the tragic news together at a familiar spot: a small bar nestled just below the High Line on the corner of 23rd Street and 10th Avenue.

“We’re meeting at the Half King,” a text would read. Before long, the shocked and devastated had arrived to grieve at this impromptu meeting place by the hundreds. Friends and colleagues cried together. Acquaintances embraced in grief. And strangers shook hands, bonding over tragedy.

“It seemed like there were hundreds of people there, without exaggeration,” said Timothy Fadek, a New York-based photojournalist who was close with Mr. Hondros. “But when I think about who was there, I can’t even remember it. It was all such a blur. We were all just so enveloped in our grief. That was really telling about the Half King — how it organically developed into a locus for war photographers and photojournalists.”

A spotlighted portrait of Mr. Hetherington equipped with his camera and standing in front of armed Liberian rebels has since hung alone on a portion of the wall at the far corner of the bar.

The Half King, a bar and restaurant in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan, has been for the better part of two decades a watering hole for writers, photographers and filmmakers. On a given afternoon, you might have seen journalists and their editors discussing projects over coffee at one of the pub’s wooden booths. You may have passed publicists sharing baskets of jalapeño poppers with prospective authors in the adjacent dining room. You may have overheard war-hardened combat photographers swapping violent scenes of faraway places over $5 happy hour draft beers along the lengthy stretch of bar top.

But after Jan. 26, the Half King, along with its in-house reading series and photography exhibits, will permanently close. With the bar’s rent having nearly tripled since it opened almost two decades ago, the market value of the neighborhood’s commercial real estate had finally caught up to the owners, and the bar, according to them, had become financially unsustainable.

After 19 years, the Half King is closingCredit Caitlin Ochs for The New York Times

“For the last few years, the only reason this place still existed is because we loved it,” said Sebastian Junger, a co-owner of the Half King, longtime war journalist and author of “The Perfect Storm.” “We wanted to take one last stand against the ‘generification’ of New York City. It finally got to the point that we were actively losing money and we just couldn’t sustain that for very long. I can’t imagine opening another bar, because we’d face the same headwinds that this one is being forced closed by.”

While not the only bar in New York City that caters to the arts — KGB Bar still hosts regular readings and bars like the Arts and Crafts Beer Parlor in Greenwich Village organize art exhibits — it filled a unique niche.

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