The Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection

National Gallery of Australia
13 July - 28 October 2001

Frida Kahlo

The haunting self-portraits of the Mexican artist Frida Kahlo are renowned for their dreamlike quality and emotional intensity. A strong and passionate individual, Kahlo overcame injury and personal hardship to become the world's best-known woman artist. Celebrated by the Surrealists in her own lifetime, Kahlo has attained cult status for her extraordinary art and her tempestuous love life with Diego Rivera, Mexico's most prominent modern painter.

An outstanding selection of works by Kahlo and Rivera forms the centrepiece of the Jacques and Natasha Gelman collection, regarded as the most significant private holding of 20th-century Mexican art. The National Gallery of Australia is proud to be the sole venue in Australia to show this important exhibition.

Frida Kahlo was born in 1907 near Mexico City. At 18 she was involved in a bus accident and severely injured, leaving her with chronic health problems that would prevent her from bearing children. Bedridden for months after many surgeries, Kahlo began to paint. Not long after her recovery she met Diego Rivera, whom she married in 1929. While Rivera's controversial mural paintings have clear political content, Kahlo's works are intensely subjective.

Her self-portraits are vivid images of an individual and her relationship to the world, whether as lover and wife of Rivera, as a Mexican citizen, or as a woman unable to have children. Rooted in the Latin American tradition of the retablo painting, a simple religious image depicting a miraculous event in a saint's life, many of her paintings speak of psychological and physical pain. Her startling combination of realistic and bizarre symbolic elements led the Surrealist writer André Breton to describe her work as "a ribbon around a bomb."

This National Gallery of Australia exhibition shows Kahlo's and Rivera's work within the broader history of Mexican modernism. There are works by the mural painters José Clemente Orozco and David Alfaro Siqueiros, contemporaries of Rivera. The Gelman collection also contains many examples of Mexican Surrealism. One of the most important Surrealist artists was the English-born painter Leonora Carrington, who moved to Mexico in 1942. Her paintings are dreamlike scenes in which normal events or objects take on a mysterious, nocturnal menace.

In many ways the stars of the exhibition are the collectors Jacques and Natasha Gelman. Emigrés to Mexico from Eastern Europe, the Gelmans were passionate art lovers who dedicated themselves to collecting the finest examples of 20th-century art. In 1998 their substantial collection of European modernism was donated to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The close relationship between artist and patron is evident in the many portraits of Jacques and Natasha, which are among the strongest works in the Mexican modernism collection.

For further information please contact Public Affairs, on+61 2 6240 6431 or
Dr Anthony White, Coordinating Curator, on +61 2 6240 6434.