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Saturday, March 14, 2015

Would Frida Be Frida Without Diego?

Diego Rivera, graphite, 6 x 8, TMDD Series, 2015

Feminists would attack me for asking that question, but no, she wouldn't.  Diego was the catalyst that pushed Frida to become what she became.

 She was a child, twenty one years younger than the famous artist.   His bravado, his enthusiasm and passion fired hers, nurtured it.  No, Frida would not have been Frida without Diego. He brought her out of her self pity (due to a tragic bus accident in early youth that destroyed her right  leg and left her in poor health) and encouraged her to be herself, to express herself in paint.  After visiting the Rivera/Kahlo (pronounced ca-low) exhibit, the relationship they shared became clearer:  Yin and Yang.

Her paintings were small. His were gigantic.   Hers were tightly painted, articulate, incredibly smooth with no brush strokes. His were gestural and grand with a primitive air.  Her subjects were autobiographical.  His were political.  One extremely private, the other extremely public, the couple  complimented each other. Her art came out on top in the long run because it was personally expressionistic at a time in art history when individual expressionism was taking center stage.   His art was historic. It didn't speak of miscarriages, barrenness, personal pain and loneliness. It spoke of Revolution, the rise of the common man,  the glory of the working man., his philosophy was socialistic. He'd been to Russia. Trotsky was a close friend.  He admired Lenin.  Frida admired Diego. 

Detroit's Edsel Ford was one of three of  the  city's industrialists to hire Mexico's premier mural painter to paint frescos for the grand entrance court of our museum.  Detroit was a working man's town whose populace consisted primarily of blue collar laborers.  Diego was an admirer of Edsel's father Henry who he had met in Russia and was the first big shot American to pay his employees enough in wages that they could afford his automobiles coming off the Assembly line at  the Dearborn's River Rouge plant. Diego accepted the commission.  He was paid $20,000, an incredible amount in 1931, a year of the world's  greatest economic Depression.  ( In today's money, his fee amounts to a paltry $250,000). So a pregnant Frida  and Diego  moved to The Wardell Hotel, built in 1926 and named after the industrialist who manufactured Eureka Vacuum cleaners. The new hotel was right across the street from the museum.  Diego and Frida lived there for the two years it took Diego to paint the 27 fresco panels, which, in April, 2014,  were just proclaimed a National Monument.

Ford's assembly line at the Rive Rouge Plant, the largest industrial manufacturing plant in the world in 1932.
While a lot of workers are shown working,  fifty percent of the city's people were out of work in 1932, a year in the biggest economic depression the world has ever known.

the one panel I would have loved to show you I could not find, (and no photos were allowed).  It's the one over the North entrance to Kresge Court.  The focal point is a healthy baby in the womb.  Frida had a miscarriage while they were in Detroit and was left barren. Diego painted this panel after her miscarriage.  I think it's this panel  that makes the frescos personal, a work of art.

From Detroit Diego and Frida went to New York.  Rockefeller had commissioned a mural for his Center.   Diego's true, undemocratic, un-American  politics came out in this piece of work. Rockefeller was appalled--wanted him to get rid of Lenin.   Diego refused--wanted to put in Lincoln to balance it out. It was no go.  He was fired on the spot and workers demolished the mural overnight.  American artists were up in arms, freedom of expression and all that--but they didn't commission it. They didn't pay for it.  They had nothing they could say to make Rockefeller change his mind. I thought the preparatory drawing for this mural was one of the most interesting pieces in our exhibit.  I could not find a photo--though it is said they exist. 



  1. Thank you, stuff I didn't know and very interesting. Did you enjoy it?

  2. Love industrial art, even the Soviet Union stuff, hated the ideology but was intrigued by the art. hello from Australia by the way- I left winter behind and am down here in time for late summer.

    1. Lovely! Fall following Winter , Sping following Fall should shake up your year. You'll have lots to write about.

      The frescos are impressive. It was most interesting seeing how they were painted. I loved the huge preparatory drawings the best. Rivera's style was loose and flowing on those. In 1932, the Great Depression had a huge effect on art--similar I suspect to the cave art. The cave artist drew a bison on the wall in the belief if you can draw the image, the magic of the drawing would conjure up a bison for the guys to kill and the tribe to eat. Well, if you could paint men at work in science and industriy, maybe the magic of the art would stir up those economies and people would be put back to work. I didn't think of that till now, but fifty percent of the population was unemployed at the time and a lot of people were falling for Lenin's philosophies. Good thing MacArthur wasn't around. The murals represent an era. They are incredibly interesting when you think the art the industrialists stocked the museum with since is worth billions today, another economic time when Detroit is struggling to rebuild. Thanks to the industrialists, the art was saved in the bankruptcy! Also: FYI. The Rough Auto Plant, which is pictured in those frescos, is where the planes And tanks were built during WWII. I guess I had a great time at this exhibit. Look at all the history it raked up! Enjoy the kuala bears. Travel safe.

  3. Linda, thank you for the introduction to Frida and Diego. I did not appreciate her work before [still not too impressed] but I do like Rivera's work - very typical of those revolutionary/ communist-thinking times.

    1. His time was the same time as Zapata and the Mexican revolution. His initial subjects (before the giant frescos he painted in Mexico and elsewhere) were the farmers, the workers in Mexico, the dirt poor and unemployed. Communism was attractive to a lot of folks who had gone poor in the Depression.

      I appreciate their art because it was driven by a passion beyond painting for painting sake. He painted for a better economic life for his people; she painted for therapy. . When I was diagnosed with breast cancer and faced the cure (hopefully), my art was reborn; I started drawing the people I loved and self portraits. I was afraid of losing them and my life. Five years a survivor, my need to hold on to myself and the people I love has lessened.. And that's okay with me. :-))