Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera at the DIA

Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera

Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera by Carl Van Vechten, 1932 Library of Congress


The Detroit Institute of Arts is about to open an exhibit about the year Diego Rivera and Frieda Kahlo spent in Detroit. Rivera painted the amazing frescos in the DIA’s Rivera Court known as the Detroit Industry murals. Kahlo had a difficult time during their stay – she did not like the city and suffered a miscarriage while she was here. However, art historians point to this time period as one where she began to come into her own as an artist.

When vacationing in Mexico a few years ago, I spent a short time in Puerto Vallarta, which is directly west of Mexico City where Kahlo lived most of her life. Right off our cruise ship, a woman had a kiosk set up selling various items, several of which related to Kahlo. I gravitated to the Kahlo-themed items, though I didn’t know much about her. The woman told me a little about the artist, how she was a feminist, and about her relationship with Rivera. I was really intrigued by all the woman had said about Kahlo and even more so since I knew of Rivera’s work at the DIA. But, I didn’t get around to looking into her further until I heard about the DIA’s upcoming exhibition.

I was surprised to learn that as a teen, Kahlo was involved in a horrible traffic accident while a passenger on a bus. She suffered multiple fractures, which required a body cast, and a metal bar punctured her abdomen, damaging her uterus. She spent a long time recovering, alone in bed, and this is when she started painting as a way to pass the time. She recovered from her injuries but continued to experience pain and eventually suffered multiple miscarriages as a result of the accident. Kahlo created many works while she and Rivera stayed in Detroit, including the Henry Ford Hospital, which depicts her miscarriage and subsequent stay at the hospital. It is one of her paintings that will be on display at the DIA. The rest of her life story is, of course, complicated.

The Detroit Free Press has a great article and accompanying video of some behind-the-scenes work going into the exhibit. In it, a conservator repairs part of a “cartoon” Diego used as part of his process for the murals and a research scientist examines the paints to determine Rivera’s materials and methods.*  The DIA exhibit Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo in Detroit runs from March 15 – July 12 but if you plan on attending, you should probably purchase your tickets in advance.


*It is a real life taste of some of the work depicted in novel, The People of the Book – highly recommended.


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