Sunday, August 26, 2012

A very blue house

On Friday afternoon, I visited Frida Kahlo's house that is (as you can see) very blue...


and set in beautiful grounds whose sheltering wall was built for Trotsky, when he stayed, meeting his need for security.

The most compelling, visceral feature of the museum, that the house now holds, is the vivid sense it gives of Frida's physical suffering and her continued affirmation of life in spite of that physical constraint. On display were a several of the corsets she needed to wear - grim constraining things - her leg brace; and, a photograph of her feet standing in a bath that spoke eloquently of pain borne.

As to art, there was Diego and her collection of 'votive' paintings, striking examples of folk art, painted on metal plate, naive pictures of divine intervention and miracles received or hoped for, whether bandits eluded or healing offered.  There was a room full of these and they were both moving and beautiful - a genuinely popular art.



There were too examples of both Frida and Diego's work and forgive me though her's has an extraordinary emotional intensity, he is the better artist. It is not only that his range is greater but that he sees further, most especially into the life of others, and gives them a striking sense of their own lives. There was a series of three drawings of Mexican peasants, gathered around a fire, by Diego on display that simply sang of their stories and honoured them. It is difficult to acknowledge given that he was in life such a relentless egotist and yet when he paints he foregoes subjectivity and lets others' speak. Kahlo's work is, not surprisingly, more deeply personal and bound both to her own celebration and suffering.



I was reminded of a similar yet different artistic family that of the Johns (though here they are brother and sister). In terms of range, Augustus, like Rivera, has the greater range but (as he acknowledged) is the inferior artist to his sister, Gwen. Her painted world is even more restricted than Kahlo's but it has a resonance of clarity, compassion and objectivity that is closer to Rivera's ability to let the world speak through, rather than with, the artist.

The criteria here is Simone Weil's 'de-creation' - a great artist stands their selves down and steps out and allows the world to speak through them. We need to know nothing about them in order to see the reality they paint.

The house is in a beautiful suburb of Mexico City replete with tree infested squares and a bohemian atmosphere (and given its tourist lure a surfeit of policemen). We had lunch at a famous department store that was indulging in a festival of 'British' food (God help them) that included heavily Mexican versions of 'cottage pie' and 'fish and chips'. I stuck to the enchiladas!

We wandered past Trotsky's house too. He is very much seen here as the persecuted intellectual. This is touching, I suppose, but all too 'romantic'. Trotsky presided as Commissar for War over the most vicious and destructive civil war of the twentieth century and was only out manoeuvred and subsequently murdered by Stalin because his ideological zeal was outbid by Stalin's sociopathic cunning.  This wins every time, sadly.

2 comments:

  1. Thanks the the post Nicholas, I've visited the Casa Azul twice this year and enjoyed it both times. I now have a reproduction of Kahlo's 'Marxism will give Health to the Sick' next to my desk in Hanoi - Vietnam seemed an appropriate place for it. The Trotsky house is interesting too, partly for its collection of his documents, and partly because of the (ultimately ineffective) fortifications and security devices. An updated family tree in the Trotsky house indicates that several of Trotsky's direct descendents still live in Coyacan. Would make an interesting answer to the question "what did your grandfather do?". Incidentally, Trotsky's surname at birth was Bronstein...

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  2. Indeed here is Trotsky's grandson talking about his grandfather's assassination on The Guardian last week (as it happens): - http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/video/2012/aug/20/trotsky-assassination-remembered-grandson-video?INTCMP=SRCH

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