Thursday, November 15, 2012

art needs to breathe / frida and diego in toronto

I saw the Frida Kahlo/Diego Rivera show at the AGO in Toronto.
I believe the show was well-curated, temperature controlled, not crowded on the wall. I suppose, too, there's a curatorial reason for hosting the show in the dim rooms on the lower floor. I hope it's not just because people can't be trusted to walk all the way up the fourth floor which is brighter and nicer.
The show is a good representation of their work, though I'm not sure it will turn people who aren't already fans into fans. Maybe it's the dim rooms. Maybe the hordes of people. I question the wisdom of putting the captions for several paintings and photos off to the side. For those who want to know the provenance of a painting or the material used, it wasn't possible to move between the works and the captions. There were so many people. It's great to see people so eager to be culturfied, though it lends a pre-Christmas-shopping-mall aura to culture.
I saw the show but didn't get that visceral jolt in the aesthetic gut that I expect from a great painting or paintings. I did get it when I saw the same paintings in Mexico last year. In Mexico, with the bright sunshine outside, purple and pink adobe buildings, pyramids, mole sauce and fresh burritos, Frida Kahlo's nightmare paintings and Diego Rivera's squat, stylized bodies make sense. What I particularly loved about seeing the paintings in Mexico was walking through Frida and Diego's houses and seeing where they worked, the terracotta pottery, embroidery, glassware and Judas figures they surrounded themselves with.
So... yeah... the show at the AGO, which I saw on a cold, grey day, didn't measure up to that. I missed the open French doors onto the sunshine, the terrifying squawk of peacocks, the velvet embroidered pillows, the little painted wooden truck filled with crucifixes, the floor to ceiling cabinets filled with receipt books, recipes, journal notes labelled in a bold, spidery scrawl.
Which makes me question whether any collected, curated and pristine show ever really works.
We can, however, pay more attention to art at home. The sculpture portraits by Evan Penny in the lovely high-ceilinged space on the fourth floor were mesmerizing. Each one. If you go to the AGO, don't miss them.
When we were in Toronto, we visited and stayed with friends who are visual artists. When I came home again and was trying to think through how I felt about the Frida and Diego show, I realized I'd felt closer to art (whatever that is, I can't say) when I saw their walls and studios hung with paintings, sketches, collages, paper cuts, etchings.
Art needs to breathe. Or at least I do when I'm looking at it.

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