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Mexican Art at New York's El Barrio - 2002-04-26


New York City's premiere Latino art museum, El Museo del Barrio, is now host to a world-touring exhibition of 20th Century Mexican Art. The exhibition features rare pieces by famed Mexican artists, and husband and wife, Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. The Harlem museum is reaffirming its mission to celebrate the richness of Latin American and Caribbean art and culture with this landmark exhibition.

The colorful self-portrait of Frida Kahlo sitting on the edge of a bed in one of her well-known long peasant dresses with a dog by her side is one of her better known works. This piece is one of the highlights in the exhibition called "Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, and Twentieth-Century Mexican Art." The exhibition has already traveled to Australia, Eastern Europe and Latin America, giving the world a glimpse into Mexican modernist art.

Director of El Barrio Museum Susana Torruella Leval says she is thrilled to have the exhibition at the Harlem museum. "It's one of the greatest exhibitions in our history. It's one of the most important ones because it includes some of the greatest masterpieces of Mexican Modernism," she says. "It's a brilliant collection and we are so excited and happy to be able to have it here and offer it to the city of New York." The works were collected by the late Jacques and Natasha Gelman, Europeans who moved to Mexico in the 1940s and personally knew most of the artists especially Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. Curator Robert Littman relates a story of Frida Kahlo trying to sell her jewelry to Natasha Gelman for cash. Mrs. Gelman instead asks for a portrait from the artist.

Mr. Littman says the 10 Kahlos in the collection offer viewers a particularly intimate experience. "They (the Gelmans) only, if you'll notice, have Kahlos where Kahlo is confronting you directly. They're not the troubled, tortured, psychologically intense pictures that are in other Kahlo collections because this is the Frida they knew," he says. "This was their friend, this is who they went to the opera with, this is who they partied with."

While the artists featured in the show are from Mexico at a time when the Gelmans were living there, Mr. Littman feels the works should not be defined as Mexican. Instead, he says they should just be seen as an outstanding collection of a broad range of artists. "Diego was a Mexican artist, because, I mean, with his association with the government and painting murals and the history of Mexico, yes," he says. "That's very Mexican, but I don't think that Frida necessarily, and her torment, is confined to a Mexican sensibility."

In the past decade, Frida Kahlo has become an icon in the international art world. Numerous books have been written about her, and a film on her life is scheduled to open before the end of the year. But the exhibition also offers more than 100 works from major Mexican artists, including David Alfaro Siqueiros and Jose Orozco. "One of the great glories of this collection is the variety of it too, in addition to these great masterpieces by Frida and Diego, it also has a huge range in terms of styles and approaches," says Ms. Leval.

The paintings, drawings and photographs on view at the museum offer a look into pre-and post-Revolutionary Mexican life and culture, while also exploring the personal struggles and triumphs of an important group of artists.

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