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Paris | Art tour 2013 – Kahlo and Rivera

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I would like to start off my little Paris art series with a moan about London. For all the great events which take place in the city, its exhibitions tend to pale into insignificance when compared with Paris. Take the exhibitions that are on at the moment. At the Royal Academy, the grand galleries of the Burlington Palace are given over to an exhibition surveying the art history of Australia. Well we all know that Australia has no art history, and this exhibition demonstrates as much. Then there’s Tate Modern’s new retrospective on Paul Klee which presents room after room of samey small little Bauhaus explorations – and leaves the visitor as flat as the image so meticulously conceived by Klee on paper. And let us not forget the Royal Academy’s other homage to a nation’s art – its recent Mexico show, whose only inclusion of perhaps the greatest artist ever to come out of Mexico, Frida Kahlo, was a painting so small (and I mean ridiculously small) that you had to squint to see it.

Rivera's cubist period

Rivera’s cubist period

None of this in Paris, whose exhibitions present such a comprehensive survey of the particular artist at hand that you feel not only completely enriched at the end of the show, but also pretty exhausted too. And Paris doesn’t just have one blockbuster exhibition a year – no no, it holds a good three or four massive artistic events each season, hence why I feel the insuperable need to visit the city each year.

Really marking Paris out as the superior of its cross-channel neighbour this year is the Musée de l’Orangerie’s significant survey of the works of one Frida Kahlo, and her equally inspired artist husband, Diego Rivera. Entitled Art in Fusion, it explores what has to be one of the greatest married (and divorced, and then remarried) painterly partnerships of modern art history, with many of the most substantial of each artist’s oeuvres on exhibition, and not a tiny painting in sight.

The couple together

Diego Rivera with Wife Frida Kahlo tumblr_m965goUs9T1rw3fqbo1_1280 frida-kahlo-diego-rivera3

I have always adored the work of Frida Kahlo, resonating so easily with her emotionally raw artistic expression right from the time I first saw her work (ironically in London – those were the good days). For me, Kahlo’s paintings will always trump those of her hubbie’s, which are altogether more political for my taste. Either that or they are too superficial – such as paintings of children tying up lillies or portraits of Mexican natives. His works are altogether too easy to interpret at face value, while faced with a Kahlo masterpiece, you are kept guessing about all of the multi-layered complex meaning with which she imbues her works.

As ever, my favourite of her paintings are those which deal the most viscerally with her experiences of personal trauma – both the bus accident which crippled her for life, and the series of miscarriages which resulted, as well as her painful experience of Rivera’s relentless infidelity. This may make me morose, even morbid in my preferences, but then it was Frida’s works which first inspired me to commit my own life-changing accident to canvas.

Frida’s visceral pain-filled works

Frida-Kahlo-Henry-Ford-Hospital-1932 The-Broken-Column tumblr_lv2v44tlpg1qzse0lo1_1280 Frida-Kahlo_Self-Portrait-with-Dr-Farell kahlo-11

At the risk of being unfair to Rivera, of the canvases on show, a few stand out. I particularly enjoyed his cubist period when, as a young man, he found himself influenced by the early advent of this movement in 1900s Paris. However for the most part, it is Rivera’s murals which are his staggering life’s masterpieces, and sadly, despite some attempt at reproduction in the exhibition, these will require a trip to Mexico to be enjoyed to the full.

Rivera’s murals

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That said, this show, which is a unique opportunity to see both the works of husband and wife displayed alongside each other, is an indisputably unmissable opportunity to see the artistic fusion which these two icons of Mexican art produced during their years together. And, being as it is in the Orangerie, if you find the vitality of colour and the depth of emotional expression a little too much to muster, there’s always Monet’s ultimately calming waterlillies to soothe you upstairs.

Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera | Art in Fusion is on at the Orangerie until 13 January 2013. If you want to avoid the vast queues which characterise all of the Paris exhibitions, I recommend buying tickets in advance.

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