Visit the Largest Collection of Frida Kahlo’s Work Ever Assembled: 800 Artifacts from 33 Museums, All Free Online

Some films achieve the rare feat of being both col­or­ful escapist fan­ta­sy and art­ful means of recon­nect­ing us with our imper­iled human­i­ty. Pixar’s won­der­ful, ani­mat­ed Coco is such a film, “an explo­ration of val­ues,” writes Jia Tolenti­no at The New York­er, “a sto­ry of a multi­gen­er­a­tional matri­archy, root­ed in the past—whereas real life, these days, feels like an atem­po­ral, struc­ture­less night­mare ruled by men.” Cen­tral to its fic­tion­al­ized cel­e­bra­tion of Mex­i­can cul­ture and his­to­ry is a his­tor­i­cal fig­ure every grown-up view­er knows—that fore­moth­er of Mex­i­can mod­ernism, Fri­da Kahlo, an artist who seems as nec­es­sary to remem­ber now as ever.

Not that Fri­da Kahlo is in dan­ger of being for­got­ten. She is adored around the world, an icon for mil­lions of peo­ple who see them­selves in the var­i­ous inter­sec­tions of her iden­ti­ty: Mex­i­can, mes­ti­za, queer, dis­abled, fem­i­nist, uncom­pro­mis­ing­ly rad­i­cal, etc….

Kahlo’s iden­ti­ties mat­ter, and she made them mat­ter. She would not be erased or let her edges be planed away and sand­ed down. Like oth­er con­fes­sion­al artists to whom she is often com­pared, Kahlo turned her trag­i­cal­ly painful, joy­ous­ly vibrant life into endur­ing art. To crib Audre Lorde’s descrip­tion of poet­ry, her work is a “rev­e­la­to­ry dis­til­la­tion of expe­ri­ence.”

But the con­fes­sion­al under­stand­ing of Kahlo can present a crit­i­cal prob­lem, name­ly the emer­gence of what Stephanie Mencimer calls “the Kahlo Cult.”

…her fans are large­ly drawn by the sto­ry of her life, for which her paint­ings are often pre­sent­ed as sim­ple illus­tra­tion…. But, like a game of tele­phone, the more Kahlo’s sto­ry has been told, the more it has been dis­tort­ed, omit­ting uncom­fort­able details that show her to be a far more com­plex and flawed fig­ure than the movies and cook­books sug­gest.

In any case, we may not need more hagiog­ra­phy of Fri­da. We find her life, flaws and all, in her work. From the rav­ages of child­hood polio and a hor­rif­ic traf­fic acci­dent at 18 (depict­ed in the draw­ing below but nev­er in a paint­ing), from love affairs, a deep immer­sion in Mex­i­can folk art, and a com­mit­ment to social­ism and the Mex­i­can Rev­o­lu­tion, Kahlo cre­at­ed an auto­bi­o­graph­i­cal oeu­vre like no oth­er. That said, Kahlo her­self is so unde­ni­ably fas­ci­nat­ing a char­ac­ter that “no one need appre­ci­ate art to jus­ti­fy being a Kahlo fan or even a Kahlo cultist,” as Peter Schjel­dahl once wrote. “Why not? The world will have cults, and who bet­ter mer­its one?”

For the art appre­ci­a­tors and Kahlo cultists alike, Google Arts & Cul­ture has cre­at­ed a project that brings togeth­er her life and work in ways that illu­mi­nate both, with bio­graph­i­cal and crit­i­cal essays, and a thor­ough exhib­it of her work from muse­ums all over the world, includ­ing many lit­tle-known pieces like her sketch­es, draw­ings, and ear­ly works; a look at her let­ters and many pho­tographs of her through­out her life; an online exhi­bi­tion of her famous wardrobe; sev­er­al fea­tures of her influ­ence on LGBTQ artists, musi­cians, fash­ion design­ers, and much, much more. It’s “the largest Kahlo cura­tion ever assem­bled,” notes My Mod­ern Met. “The best part? No need to pay a muse­um fee—it’s avail­able online for any­one to enjoy for free.”

A col­lab­o­ra­tion “between the tech giant and a world­wide net­work of experts and 33 part­ner muse­ums in sev­en coun­tries,” notes Hyper­al­ler­gic, Faces of Fri­da con­tains 800 arti­facts, “includ­ing 20 ultra-high res­o­lu­tion images… nev­er dig­i­tized till now.” Some of these arti­facts are extreme­ly rare, such as “ear­ly ver­sions of her work, sketched and etched onto the backs of fin­ished paint­ings, unseen by any­one with­out the abil­i­ty to touch them.” You can also see the places that most influ­enced her career through five Google Street view tours, “includ­ing the famous Blue House in Mex­i­co City in which she was born and died.”

This com­pre­hen­sive online gallery seeks to encom­pass every part of Frida’s life, but rarely takes the focus from her work. “Of the 150 or so of her works that have sur­vived,” notes Mencimer, “most are self-por­traits. As she lat­er said, ‘I paint myself because I am so often alone, because I am the sub­ject I know best.’” Work­ing out­ward from her­self, she also paint­ed the spe­cif­ic res­o­nances of her time and place, and explored human expe­ri­ences that tran­scend per­son­al­i­ty. “As with all the best artists,” says author Frances Borzel­lo in one of the Google Arts fea­tures, “Kahlo’s art is not a diary inge­nious­ly pre­sent­ed in paint but a recre­ation of per­son­al beliefs, feel­ings and events through her par­tic­u­lar lens into some­thing unique and uni­ver­sal.”

Though a super­star in the land of the dead, dur­ing her life Kahlo’s work was great­ly over­shad­owed by that of her famous hus­band Diego Rivera. She only had two shows in her life­time, one of them arranged by sur­re­al­ist Andre Bre­ton, who called her paint­ing “a rib­bon around a bomb.” After her death in 1954, she “large­ly dis­ap­peared from the main­stream art world.” There is a cer­tain irony in point­ing out that fas­ci­na­tion with Kahlo’s work some­times reduces down to inter­est in her biog­ra­phy, since it took a 1983 biog­ra­phy by Hay­den Her­rera to bring her back into the pub­lic con­scious­ness. “When it was pub­lished” Mer­cimer writes, “there wasn’t a sin­gle mono­graph of Kahlo’s work to show peo­ple what it looked like, but the biog­ra­phy, which could have been the basis for a Uni­vi­sion telen­ov­ela, sparked a Fri­da fren­zy.”

How things have changed. No read­er of Herrera’s book, or any of the many treat­ments of Kahlo’s life since then, will come to it sight unseen. Frida’s face—defiant, mus­ta­chioed, monobrowed—stares out at us from every­where. The Google exhib­it guides us through a com­pre­hen­sive con­tex­tu­al­iza­tion of that haunt­ing, yet famil­iar gaze. The let­ters and bio­graph­i­cal entries con­tain insight after insight into the artist’s pri­vate and pub­lic lives. But ulti­mate­ly, it’s the paint­ings that speak. As Borzel­lo puts it, when we real­ly con­front Frida’s work, we may be struck by “how help­less words are in the face of the strange rich­ness of those images.” She invent­ed new visu­al vocab­u­lar­ies of pain, plea­sure, pride, and per­se­ver­ance. Vis­it Faces of Fri­da here.

via Google’s blog

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Fri­da Kahlo’s Col­or­ful Clothes Revealed for the First Time & Pho­tographed by Ishi­uchi Miyako

1933 Arti­cle on Fri­da Kahlo: “Wife of the Mas­ter Mur­al Painter Glee­ful­ly Dab­bles in Works of Art”

Artists Fri­da Kahlo & Diego Rivera Vis­it Leon Trot­sky in Mex­i­co: Vin­tage Footage from 1938

The Fri­da Kahlo Action Fig­ure

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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