The full scope of “Frida Kahlo: Timeless” at the College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn was shown on Saturday on the exhibition’s media day.
This summer exhibition dedicated to the iconic Mexican artist of the 20th century has practically taken over the college’s McAninch Arts Center. It is also the largest Kahlo exhibit in the Chicago area in over 40 years, and officially opens on Saturday, June 5, after a one-year postponement due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s such a privilege,” said Reyna Torres Mendivil, Mexican Consul General in Chicago, who was attending the full exhibit. “You can really see iconic pieces of his work.”
The main attractions are 26 of Kahlo’s original works on loan from the currently closed Dolores Olmedo Museum in Mexico City. These paintings, drawings and lithographs fill the 2,500 square foot galleries of McAninch’s Cleve Carney Art Museum, which was expanded in 2019.
The works of Kahlo (1907-1954) are mainly autobiographical and full of symbolic and surrealist touches directly linked to his life.
“The Olmedo collection stands out because it has a very early work, but also a part of the tragic work,” said Adriana Jaramillo, communication director of the Dolores Olmedo museum.
Several of the works are brutal and graphic, often depicting the excruciating and debilitating pain that Kahlo endured after suffering from polio at the age of 6 and then later after surviving a fatal collision between a bus and a cart in Mexico City in 1925.
For example, “The Broken Column” is a self-portrait by Kahlo depicting a fractured Roman column as his spine while several nails pierce his chest.
“The Broken Column” is the crown jewel of the Olmedo collection, “Jaramillos said.” It is one of Frida Kahlo’s most iconic works.
But the full “Frida Kahlo: Timeless” experience encompasses 10,000 square feet of the McAninch Arts Center. More than 100 photographs documenting the artist’s life are also on loan from Mexico.
And unique to College of DuPage are other Kahlo-inspired ancillary exhibits, documentary videos, a garden, and even an architectural model of his family’s “Blue House” (now a separate museum in Mexico City).
For example, the McAninch Hall at Belushi Performance Hall has been transformed into an exhibit detailing Kahlo’s life timeline. There are replicas of Kahlo’s clothes, medical orthotics, and the iconic bed where she did much of her painting.
“The work they did with the rest of the exhibition, explaining to the public her life, the historical context in which she and (the artist’s husband) Diego Rivera lived, and even the costumes – the Mexican embroidery and textiles – it’s just beautiful, ”Mendivil said.
Kahlo’s inspired artistic and commercial heirlooms are seen elsewhere, from other exhibits to the inevitable gift shop.
In the McAninch Playhouse theater is the “Tres Fridas Project”. It shows the collaborative efforts of artists Reveca Torres, Tara Ahern and Mariam Pare, all of whom infuse disability awareness into recreations of great works of art.
And the biography of Kahlo by children’s book illustrator Mike Venezia strongly influenced a family area related to the exhibition. It features Mexican dolls, Kahlo puppets, a short animated video, and small desks for kids to make their own self-portraits.
“I want the young people of the Mexican-American community to come and see this, but also the general public,” Mendivil said. “I am delighted that we have this opportunity until September.”