Review: “Frida Kahlo, Diego Riviera, and Mexican Modernism” exhibit opens at the Portland Art Museum


Lia Althouse

Outside the Portland Art Museum, a poster advertises the newly-opened Mexican Modernism exhibit. The exhibit focuses on several artists, such as Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, and will be open until June 5.

Lia Althouse

In a world full of turmoil, stress and expectations, art museums allow people the opportunity to connect with various time periods and cultures, and to put their own lives into greater perspective. I was reminded of this when I saw “Calla Lily Vendor,” a beautiful and thought-provoking piece by Diego Rivera, at the beginning of the “Frida Kahlo, Diego Riviera, and Mexican Modernism” exhibit at the Portland Art Museum.

The exhibit spans across several rooms, focusing on the lives and influences of a circle of Mexican modernist artists such as Kahlo and Rivera in the early 20th century after the Mexican Revolution. The exhibit explains that, during this time period, as Mexicans grappled with their newfound freedom, there was a collective of Mexican artists participating in the Mexicanidad movement who incorporated their Indigenous identities into political and anti-colonialist art.

In the exhibit itself, there is a wide range of art from Kahlo and Rivera of various types, including paintings, prints and sketches. There are also photographs that document several parts of their lives, as well as several pieces of art from other Mexican modernist artists such as María Izquierdo and Gunther Gerzso.

The art is beautiful, but what stuck with me the most was its emotional impact. A print of the painting “Diego on My Mind (Self-Portrait as Tehuana)” has been hanging in my home for a long time, but seeing the real painting was surreal. It was humbling and grounding to connect with, just one of the unique experiences museums and galleries provide. 

My personal favorite part of the exhibit was how it highlighted Kahlo’s deliberate use of clothing and fashion as commentary on her culture. As the exhibit explains, she often wore traditional Mexican clothing both in paintings and in photographs of herself to reflect her cultural and political identity. In one room, there is a large showcase of various mannequins clothed in recreations of several different outfits Kahlo painted herself wearing. The focus put on outfits to create political and cultural statements is something I have only ever seen at exhibits specifically focusing on fashion, so I really appreciated the examination of fashion in Kahlo’s work. 

Considering the school’s proximity to the Portland Art Museum, combined with the fact that many Lincoln students get free admission (tickets to Portland Art Museum are free for those 17 and younger), I would certainly recommend seeing the exhibit if you have a chance. To fully grasp the content, I would recommend spending at least an hour and fifteen minutes at the exhibit, but for those short on time, it can be skimmed through in around thirty minutes. 

The exhibit will be in Portland until June 5. Ticket information and visiting hours are on the Portland Art Museum’s website