Frida Kahlo at SFMoma

My Dress Hangs Here
from the Tate Modern

Last Sunday my sister, Kris, and I took the ferry into San Francisco to catch the last day of the Frida Kahlo show at the SF Moma. Nothing like waiting until the last minute. The show was there all summer, but for some reason, we never could get out act together to go see it. When I went to get tickets online a few days before, it was sold out, and I thought we’d missed our chance. But when I checked again on Saturday, they had released tickets, so I bought a pair for 5:30. We really didn’t want to go that late, but we figured it would be better than not going at all. Then, Sunday morning, I checked for tickets again, and they had released a lot more. I bought tix for the 3:00 viewing, and then we sold the 5:30 ones when we got to the museum. By then it was sold out again, and the couple who bought them seemed pretty grateful to get the tickets.

Henry Ford Hospital
from Art Archive

The whole point of buying advance tickets at half hour intervals was for crowd control. We were still crammed inside the gallery rooms; not recommended for claustrophobes. I can’t imagine what the experience would have been like if they had just allowed unlimited access. Some of Kahlo’s paintings are very small and detailed, such as Henry Ford Hospital. Everyone, myself included, wants to get right in there and look at all the amazing details. This painting was done with oil on metal. It was the first significant painting in the collection and we formed a line along the wall behind it, patiently waiting our turns. Okay, some people weren’t so patient. I was behind a lady with a stroller and an adorable crying baby. I felt like I’d been waiting a long time and still we weren’t making any progress. Then I notice, people behind us are deciding to walk around us and squeeze in front of us to see the painting. It reminded me of that aggravation you feel when you know your lane is going to merge on the freeway and so you pull over only to have a hundred cars zip by and squish themselves in at the last minute which can alternately make you feel like a sucker and a fool. Those of you who take Highway 37 from Marin to Vallejo and have to make that merge just after Lakeville Road on a busy Friday afternoon will know exactly what I’m talking about. But who am I to say what correct etiquette is in the museum? After all, no one said we had to walk through the exhibit like people waiting for a Disney ride. Okay, so I digress. I continually had to remind myself to take deep breaths and relax so as not to be engulfed with road rage, I mean museum-goer rage.

A Few Small Nips
from Art Archive

But I guess if you’re going to let your emotions get the best of you, a Frida Kahlo exhibit would be a good place to do it. Her paintings overflow with raw passion, and most of it is pretty dark. A Few Small Nips was painted after she found out that her sister had been having an affair with Frida’s philandering husband, Diego Rivera, for over a year. Our little tour brochure said, “Kahlo later confided to a friend that she had decided to paint this scene because she sympathized with the dead woman, since she herself [Frida] had come close to being ‘murdered by life.'” There’s so much pain in this picture that the murdered woman’s bloodstains can not be contained on the canvas and spill over onto the simple wooden frame.

The Broken Column
from Zoe Brigley’s Blog

In fact, Frida never really lets you turn away from her pain, and I think that’s why so many people are drawn to her art. Her paintings are very narrative. When I see them, I feel like I’m being allowed into the soul of her life. I almost want to avert my eyes, but not quite. Through her art, she allows me to be a voyeur to her personal struggles and suffering. She once said, “They thought I was a Surrealist, but I wasn’t. I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality.” I love The Broken Column because she paints her strength and her vulnerabilities. Tears stream from onto her cheeks and the background is bleak and barren, but she still shows her sense of determination as well as her sexual power.

Self Portrait – 1930
from The New York Times

Frida said that she painted herself because she was always alone and because she knew herself the best. This self portrait is my favorite among the many that she did. I think that it is in this painting that she allows her real beauty to shine through. Her delicate features, her rosy cheeks and lips, the intricate jeweled orb earrings and the simple hairstyle and dress, seem to depict her at a time when she was healthy and happy. In 1930, one year after marrying Rivera, she moved with him to San Francisco where Rivera had been commissioned to paint two murals. But it was also in 1930, that Frida was forced to have an abortion because of a pelvic abnormality resulting from the bus crash she experienced in 1925.

Frida said in 1938, “I paint because I need to, and I paint whatever passes through my head without any consideration.” How fortunate I am to have been able to see her amazing art work here, and how fortunate we are all that she painted what was in her head as well as in her heart.

For a nice slide show of photographs and paintings, take a look at The Life and Times of Frida Kahlo.

4 thoughts on “Frida Kahlo at SFMoma

  1. Thank you so much for sharing the museum show of Frieda’s work. She is one powerful painter. I enjoyed every minute of your journey as well as your frustration with the line “ditchers” LOL

  2. Dear Karen,

    I came across your blog serendipitously whilst searching for a non-copyright protected image of cuneiform script (and I found one on your website that satisfied my muse).

    I used this image in an utterly whimsical piece that I had fun with which is here: and, of course, I attributed its sourcing.

    Though I was quite pleased to find an image which I did not previously have access to, I feel that a far grander felicitous finding was this blog of yours. I look forward to reading it from the beginning and seeing how you have progressed to your last post, to date, and the first post I read.

    Your writing is enjoyable, intellectually engaging, and engaging on a human level.

    Thank you very much for sharing your thoughts and reflections. They are a pleasure to read.


    PS Thank you for your efforts in creating a whimsical database of copyright free images which you then make freely available and host yourself.

  3. This artwork is intense and I feel rewarded by reading your experiences and viewing the art you shared. I do not genuinely enjoy crowds and am pretty art illiterate so thank you for taking the time to share the art with your thoughts on it.

  4. Karen, your blending of images and text creates the perfect balance. I can’t tell which I enjoy more. Your site is masterful and I hope you find great success at training and reigning your students toward creating successful blogs of their own.

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