Critics’ Picks

View of “Las apariencias engañan: Los vestidos de Frida Kahlo” (Appearances Are Deceiving: The Dresses of Frida Kahlo), 2013.

Mexico City

“Las apariencias engañan: los vestidos de Frida Kahlo”

Museo Frida Kahlo
London 247, Del Carmen
November 30, 2012–August 29, 2013

Given the never-ending interest in Mexican painter Frida Kahlo and her work, it would seem almost impossible to come up with anything new and meaningful to add to the interpretation of her oeuvre. On the other hand, devising an exhibition that focuses exclusively on the striking wardrobe that formed the basis for her exotic image, while disregarding her highly recognized pictorial work, would almost seem an act of curatorial suicide. Nonetheless, the exhibition “Las apariencias engañan: Los vestidos de Frida Kahlo” (Appearances Are Deceiving: The Dresses of Frida Kahlo), curated by Circe Henestrosa, is a revealing attempt to unravel what lay behind Frida Kahlo’s exuberant way of dressing and of literally turning herself into art.

The exhibition is structured around two themes, or more accurately, biographical narrative clusters—“disability” and “ethnicity”—that shed light on the consistent and seductive public image that Kahlo built alongside her artwork, an image that enshrouded her more intimate reality: a mutilated and chronically ill body.

It has often been thought that Kahlo’s wardrobe—which was largely based on combinations of items taken from traditional Zapotec attire—was a bold act of ideological-aesthetic appropriation designed to heighten the visibility of the celebrated couple that she and Diego Rivera formed. The selection of never-before-exhibited objects and garments in this exhibition, however, is evidence that Kahlo, in her attire, was attempting to meet a much more basic and practical need. The exhibition shows us, for instance, that Kahlo adopted the structure of indigenous Oaxacan clothing—her mother was of Tehuanan descent—because it enabled her to cover, in a manner both efficacious and beautiful, her wounded body (broken pelvis; uterus and spine that required countless operations; right leg mangled by polio and an accident). The huipil with its elaborately embroidered geometrical front, along with striking jewelry, drew attention to the upper half of her body while hiding the rest. The exhibition offers interconnected and precious clues about the different ways that, in her attempt to keep herself in one piece, Kahlo became an enduring point of reference in fashion history. Indeed, her influence has proved so great that the exhibition ends with an impeccable selection of garments inspired by the “Kahlo aesthetic,” by major designers like Rei Kawakubo, Jean Paul Gaultier, and Riccardo Tisci.

Translated from Spanish by Jane Brodie.