Going to see Frida Kahlo’s work has always been something on my to do list and so it won’t come as a surprise to hear that I was pretty enthusiastic to hear her works were being exhibited at the Victoria and Albert Museum.
I always get excited at these world leading exhibitions and this was no exception. Kahlo has inspired many of our Mexican garden designs, with her bright use of colour that just sings Mexico.
However, I didn’t find it as inspirational and as invigorating as previous shows I have seen here and that did come as quite a disappointment.
As a designer, I think it’s always important to seek out inspiration in a variety of places and the V&A is usually bang on the money for presenting outstanding exhibitions on a wide variety of themes.
From Kahlo, I expected a stunning demonstration of colour, composition and sheer visionary brilliance. But that wasn’t, unfortunately, to be.
Frida Kahlo was the Grayson Perry of her day. Constantly reinventing herself, she always paid homage to her mixed heritage, in particular her maternal Mexican roots.
She is not known for being a beautiful woman, (possibly down to the overuse of eyebrow pencils used to accentuate the infamous monobrow), yet her style endures.
She is arguably one of the most recognised style icons of the 20th century. In reality she seemed to paint herself, less beautifully in her paintings that she was in real life, to somehow expose her true inner being.
She used her style and image to express her identity, and was known for presenting different versions of herself, long before Instagram filters existed.
A representation of Mexican garden design
The exhibition displays a collection of items discovered in 2004 in Kahlo’s bathroom. The bathroom in the famous Blue House was sealed by Diego Rivera’s instructions following her death 50 years earlier.
There was also a lot of references back to the famous gardens packed with tropical plants where photos of Kahlo are so often staged.
Many photographs documents were found alongside her personal items, such as medicines, orthopaedic devices, clothing and accessories. All had survived the passage of time.
The exhibition focuses a lot on Kahlo’s disfigurement and suffering. We see her ornate built-up shoes and tortuous looking corsets. There is very little of her art.
Frida Kahlo is known for her bright colourful charismatic statement art, yet this exhibition felt a little monochrome. The small photographs and tiny items of jewellery felt a little crowded out.
But then POW! all of her Mexican inspired costumes packed into one display case., as if they didn’t matter. It felt short. It fell short of her impact, her politics. Her art and depiction of the self.