“The number of reverberations between then and now becomes horrible, and frightening, and amazing.” So said Detroit Institute of Arts curator Mark Rosenthal last week, at a preview of “Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo in Detroit,” which opened this past weekend. He’s right, possibly more so than even he knows.
During the Great Depression, the museum almost went under; The storm of publicity surrounding its commission of Diego Rivera’s epic Detroit Industry frescoes in 1932 saved it, inspiring the city to step in to fund DIA. Having just suffered another near-death experience amid Detroit’s recent bankruptcy, DIA is clearly hoping this show focusing on the art-history power couple’s year in Motor City can serve as a symbolic comeback. Surely a long list of art lovers are waiting for such a comeback. In other words, it will certainly bring crowds. (The show runs through July 12.)
Of course, by now it is Frida, not Diego, who is the main attraction. The Detroit Institute of Arts’s new crowd-pleaser is unlikely to change that gospel; her mordant self-examination just feels more contemporary than his grandiose political allegory.
And yet “Diego and Frida in Detroit” shows the Rivera/Kahlo pairing in a new light for me. There’s a story to be told—and since we are talking about parallels to the present, that should be told—about their art’s relative merits that is less about our changing tastes, and more about the tangled relationship of art and money, art and power.
h/t: The New York Times