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W&L's King Curates Major Atlanta Art Exhibit

Elliott King, assistant professor of art history at Washington and Lee, curated a major exhibition at Atlanta’s High Museum of Art on the work of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, the two central figures of Mexican Modernism.

Elliott joined the W&L faculty last fall. He will give the opening lecture at the High for the exhibition, “Viva la Vida: The Art of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera,” this Saturday, Feb. 23.

“Frida & Diego: Passion, Politics, and Painting” features some of the best examples of Kahlo and Rivera’s art with over 140 works, including 60 photographs, primarily drawn from three distinguished Mexican private collections. The exhibition contains almost one-quarter of Kahlo’s entire body of work and a range of Rivera’s painting styles, from his early cubist period and studies for his Mexican murals to his portraits and later landscapes.

The exhibition is accompanied by a full-color catalogue co-authored by King and Dot Tuer, of the Ontario College of Art and Design.

Speaking about the exhibition in an interview distributed by the Associated Press, Elliott said: “What our show really tries to do is bring these two artists together, to talk about their shared context, the influences that really brought them together as a couple — their shared commitment to Mexico, their shared politics, their commitment to the Marxist revolution — and I think that’s a story that really hasn’t been told fully because the two artists have been seen in isolation.”

A major piece in the Atlanta Journal Constitution about the exhibition also quoted Elliott on the pairing of the artists: “The driving force of the exhibit is to answer the question of why these two artists stayed together. We know about the affairs that both of them had, the one-year divorce, then they got back together. But it’s hard to conceive of both Frida and Diego without that political dimension.”

According to another article in the Journal Constitution, the exhibition “has the potential to expand the High’s audience in the long term at a time when it is trying to grow.” One of the firsts for the exhibition is that the signage, recorded audio guides and labeling are in both Spanish and English.

The High Museum is the only United States venue for the show, which has received notice in national media from USA Today to the Wall Street Journal.

Few artists have captured the public’s imagination with the force of Mexican painter Frida Kahlo (1907–1954) and her husband, the Mexican painter and muralist Diego Rivera (1886–1957). During their marriage, Rivera achieved international prominence as a muralist artist, while the Surrealist movement and the Mexican art world embraced Kahlo’s intimate paintings. They were not well known, however, in the broader context of art and modernism. After the deaths of both artists in the 1950s, important retrospectives of Kahlo’s work enshrined her as one of the most significant women artists of the 20th century, largely eclipsing Rivera’s fame as Mexico’s greatest muralist painter.

Elliott is no stranger to the High Museum. In 2010, he curated a Salvador Dali exhibit, which the Journal Constitution called “hugely successful.” You can listen to him discuss the exhibition in the audio below from City Café on Atlanta’s public radio station, WABE:

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