In March the Level 4 galleries overlooking the Atrium warmly welcomed a familiar face: Frida Kahlo. The DMA is lucky to have on loan two self-portraits of the famed Mexican artist, but there is something that makes one of these portraits unique in the artist’s oeuvre and a rare treasure on view at the Museum. Self-Portrait Very Ugly, as Kahlo lovingly titled her work, is a fresco—one of just two prepared by the artist during her career, and the only fresco on view at the DMA.
Traditionally, fresco painting is done on wall surfaces; however, the 20th-century movement of Mexican muralism revolutionized the medium to allow for smaller, portable murals made up of plaster panels just like Kahlo’s. The fresco painter uses water-based pigments on a freshly plastered wall, painting only what can be completed in a work day, or giornata. The binding of the pigment with the surface of the wall results in a monumental, durable image. While Kahlo’s husband, Diego Rivera, used the fresco technique in his practice as a muralist, Kahlo was unaccustomed to the speed and spontaneity required to complete a fresco. A slow, meditative process in oil painting better suited the artist, whose work is deeply introspective. The multilingual insults surrounding her face give us a hint of her displeasure with both her image and the technique, which she abandoned immediately.
The damaged fresco panel from 1933 presents a rare opportunity for visitors to see an underrepresented medium at the DMA, and an incredibly rare work by the well-known Mexican artist. See the loaned fresco work, and an accompanying Kahlo self-portrait, Itzicuintli Dog with Me, 1938, at the DMA for a limited time.
Erin Piñon is the Early Texas Art Research Associate for the DMA