All Souls: The Frieda Kahlo Cult
by Peter Schjeldahl
November 05, 2007
There are so many ways to be interested in Frida Kahlo, who was born a hundred years ago an died forty-seven years later, in 1954, that simply to look at and judge her paintings, as paintings may seem narrow-minded. No one need appreciate art to justify being Kahlo fan or even a Kahlo cultist (Why not? The world will have cults, and who better merits one? In Mexico, Kahlo’s ubiquitous image has become the counter-Guadalupe, complementing th numinous Virgin as a deathless icon of Mexicanidad. Kahlo’s ascension since the late nineteen-seventies, to feminist sainthood is ineluctable though a mite strained. (Kahl struggled not in common cause with women but, single-handedly, fo herself.) And her pansexual charisma, shadowed by tales of ghastly physical and emotional suffering, makes her an avatar of liberty and guts. However, Kahlo’s eminence wobbles unless her work holds up. A retrospective at th Walker Art Center, in Minneapolis proves that it does, and then some. She made some iffy symbological pictures an a few perfectly awful ones—forgivably, given their service to her alway imperilled morale—but her self-portraits cannot be overpraised. They are sui generis in art while collegial with great portraiture of every age. Kahlo is among the winnowed elect of twentieth-century painters who will never be absent for long from the mental museums of future artists
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