Watched The Culture Show last night (only about the second or third I have caught: doh!). Mostly, I wanted to catch Rufus Wainwright talking about his passion for classical music, especially opera (man, that guy has some freaky laugh!). But I also wanted to see the preview for the forthcoming Frida Kahlo exhibition at Tate Modern.
Now, having studied art history, 20th century art, and especially with my interest in artists who are women, I was interested to see how they dealt with the tricky figure of Kahlo. Iconic? Absolutely. Did they deal with it well on the Culture Show? With reservations.
To start with, I wasn't entirely convinced by their claim that Kahlo was classless: given her politics and her concerns, I wasn't sure how legitimate it was to make her into a classless figure. And the opening passages of the narration quickly fell into reciting the elision of art and life - the tempestuous relationships, the emphasis on her (broken) body - that I have come to dread from art documentaries (especially those about women).
Nevertheless, I was glad that in the end the piece did talk about Kahlo's calculated contribution to her own mythology: that she was ultimately performing to a particular role/character. But it struck me that by opening and focusing on the standard ways of talking about Kahlo, of presenting her, these later remarks were squashed into being just another way to talk about Kahlo's work. Especially by framing the discussion with three women creators' responses (painter, photographer, shoe designer).
Will visitors to the Tate show see the works as simplistically autobiographical, as touchingly revelatory of the painter's life? Will they see them as sur-real, visually sumptuous (even in their 'visceral' gore)? I think that the truth of Kahlo lies somewhere beyond both these stances, in a space beyond positioning Kahlo as a unique woman artist where the complexities of her actions, and her own role in creating her mythology, might be explored with more nuance than is possible in a 7 minute review.