When the Mexican artist Frida Kahlo passed away in 1954, the “Casa Azul,” or the Blue House, near Mexico City where she had resided — first with her family, and then with her husband, the muralist Diego Rivera — was opened to the public as a museum. At the same time, part of the house was quietly locked up without much notice or fanfare. Claire Wilcox, senior curator of fashion at the V&A, said that despite the Blue House openly displaying “quite a few pieces, including the furnishing and Kahlo’s bed,” paradoxically, “most of her clothing, and all of her very personal medical materials, were sealed away by Rivera and the person looking after the museum at the time, on the strict understanding that these items would be kept hidden for the next 50 years.” The discovery of these items didn’t happen until 2004, “when very few people knew or could even remember what had been locked away.” A treasure trove of Kahlo's personal items was revealed, including outfits, letters, jewelry, cosmetics, medicines and medical corsets.
This month, some 200 personal attributes and works are about to go on display for the first time outside of Mexico, in the aptly titled exhibition “Frida Kahlo: Making Herself Up.” On view from June 16 to November 4 at London’s V&A museum, it is co-curated by Wilcox with the independent curator Circe Henestrosa. While some of Kahlo's wardrobe and personal artifacts were already exhibited at the Blue House back in 2012, Wilcox stresses that “the display at the V&A is an expansion of this original idea, re-titled and with added portraits, outfits, and photographs of Kahlo.”
For an artist whose heavily stylized self-portraits are some of the most instantaneously recognizable in the world, an exhibition such as this naturally leads to the question: which Kahlo will we see? Do the ceremonial headdresses; Revlon lipsticks, blushers and eyebrow pencils (the artist’s preferred cosmetics brand); and indigenous garments from Central America — some of the objects that will make up the display — help cast a new light on this most mysterious of figures? For Wilcox, “she’s still the Frida Kahlo that people know but, hopefully, she will be regarded in more depth.” she added: “What we will gain is a greater understanding of Kahlo's life and the reasons she dressed the way she did.”
Born in 1907, Kahlo spent her entire life in her family home — which had been built by her father — located in Coyoacan, on the outskirts of Mexico City. A near-fatal bus crash at the age of 18 rendered the young woman bedbound and immobilized for protracted periods of time. this is when self-portraiture began to take on a primary role not only in her own paintings and photographs but in her everyday life too, in Kahlo’s self-fashioning as a politically conscious individual at a time when Mexico was undergoing its own political and socio-cultural self-reckoning following the Mexican revolution of 1910-20. An enthusiastic desire to embrace a national identity led to the inclusion of indigenous fabrics, materials, and dresses that often frame Kahlo's face and figure in myriad paintings. One of these items, a “resplandor” — A ceremonial headdress worn by women in southern Mexico, made from three types of white lace and trimmed with pink ribbon, and referred to as the “tehuana national attire” during the 18th and 19th centuries — becomes the central focus of several self-portraits dating from the 1940s, where the artist presents herself in the mode of a “tehuana.” The original resplandor will be displayed in the V&A galleries alongside the paintings “Diego on my mind (self-portrait as a tehuana),” 1943, and “self-portrait,” 1948, in which Kahlo's face is tightly framed by the decorative layers of stiff, white lace.
The exhibition extends just as much to the objects that were consciously left out of the frame by Kahlo, but which are no less important for the image she wished to project to those around her. take, for example, a prosthetic leg replete with a red leather boot, adorned with appliqued silk. After multiple surgical interventions following the accident that shaped the course of both her life and art, Kahlo finally had her right leg amputated in 1953. After the operation, she slowly learned to walk again but, to hide her disfigurement, she had special boots made decorated with bows and pieces of silk embroidered with Chinese dragon motifs and decorative bells. Dressed up in this way, the prosthesis is both a functional piece of medical clothing and an avant-garde piece of fashion that fits in perfectly with the rest of Kahlo’s carefully constructed look. (She died of a pulmonary embolism a year after the amputation, at the age of 47.)
It is these, “the accumulation of medicines, of Claire corsets, of her tehuana outfits,” that are the focal point of the exhibition, Wilcox said. “It’s an affirmation of what we already knew through the brilliant literature that abounds on Frida Kahlo, the many wonderful biographies, scholarly articles, and publications. however, until you’re faced with the material evidence, it’s hard to truly appreciate the depth of her suffering and disability but also the depth of her joyous countering of that through the way she dressed. there’s definitely an idea of battling through her life, but undertaken as a great artist and personality, and as somebody who was closing the carapace on her disability and ethnicity.”
There is a claim to ownership and a willingness to appear both physically and psychologically strong and unbroken that is communicated via these ornate outfits and accessories. Did this self-fashioning and control increase as Kahlo’s health deteriorated? Were they also, paradoxically, about drawing attention away from the frailty of her physical body through these incredibly colorful and maximally present costumes? Wilcox thinks so. “The sicker she got, the more elaborate her dressing up became,” she said.
Perhaps some of the exponents that reference most directly Kahlo’s own condition are the “ex-votos,” small devotional paintings on tin that were popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and which Kahlo frequently incorporated in her paintings. Found in churches or sites of pilgrimage, these would be made by anonymous artists offering thanks to the virgin or saints following an accident, injury or illness. Although Kahlo never portrayed her own accident in her work, she and Rivera collected hundreds of these objects, filling the walls of the Blue House with portrayals of others’ suffering and overcoming of hardships. they were reminders of the battle that she fought on a daily basis, in which clothing, makeup, fashion and medical accessories took up such a pivotal role.
Outdated Rules Are Killing Museums—Here’s How Things Can Change
By Michael DeMarsche and Bob Ekelund
May 30, 2018 10:27 am
The Berskhire Museum, Pittsfield, Massachusetts. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.
A number of art museums over the past decade have run into financial trouble, for reasons ranging from declining donations to adverse local situations (Detroit, for example), as well as increasing storage costs for housing ever-increasing acquisitions. Often, as is the case of the Berkshire Museum, factors are out of museum management’s control. The region around the museum’s seat of Pittsfield, Massachusetts, fell victim to industrial decline. Unfortunately, museums of all sizes may face future financial headwinds, thanks to an increase in private museums; changes in the tax treatment of gifts since last year’s tax bill was signed into law; and the high probability of a recession within the next two or three years, which could dampen charitable giving.
There is a solution within reach. Museums could deaccession, or sell, works from their collections, in order to shore up their finances, mount more shows, and reduce admission costs. The only hitch? The country’s major accrediting group, the American Alliance of Museums (AAM), won’t let them. Just last week, the AAM in conjunction with the Association of Art Museum Directors, announced sanctions on the Berkshire Museum for doing so, as well as the art museum at Philadelphia’s La Salle University.
Consider the costs of not deaccessioning. Some high-profile institutions have made admission fees mandatory for out-of-town visitors, like New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art—rendering one of the world’s greatest art collections less accessible than ever. At the same time, most of the country’s art—millions of works—languishes in storage.
We have calculated—using extreme assumptions—the ability of major American museums to exhibit their permanent collections at any one time. In a ratio of exhibition-space-to-collection, New York’s Whitney Museumwould be able to exhibit only 10.8 percent of its permanent collection. Meanwhile, the Cleveland Museum of Art could display no more than 13.7 percent of its holdings, while Atlanta’s High Museum would only be able to exhibit 0.003 percent. If these estimated exhibition ratios are typical of the majority of America’s biggest and best museums—and we have calculated that they are—a huge amount of work these museums have acquired is hidden away in storage at any given time. There is a distinct possibility many of these stored works may never be exhibited.
Storage of so much artwork comes at devastatingly high financial costs. Storage areas must be either rented or newly constructed, and all of these spaces must be equipped with state-of-the-art climate control and security systems: AAM guidelines mandate that an acknowledged fake must be as carefully stored as an authentic Rembrandt. Extensive and accurate records must be kept and overseen by skilled staff. Although comprehensive data is not available at this point, one researcher in 2002 estimated the total cost of storing America’s art at over $300 million annually—and that reflects the economy in 1988. Nearly 30 years on, with the situation only getting worse as growing collections require increased space, we believe it realistic to estimate this cost at closer to $1 billion annually and rising. One of us has directed four museums and has faced this problem of growing storage cost ourselves.
The AAM does permit deaccessioning—if and only if funds from the sale of art from permanent collections are used to buy more art. The organization is understandably concerned that unscrupulous and incompetent boards could sell valuable works to cover up or make up for financial mismanagement, a rank dereliction from a museum’s duty to safeguard our cultural heritage, and a decision that would likely deter future donations from potential patrons. Museums that do choose to deaccession run the risk of losing their AAM accreditations, which makes it difficult—if not impossible—to borrow from other museums. This, then, makes it harder for both larger museums to assemble “blockbuster” exhibitions, and for smaller museums to put on more modest shows.
We believe that the position against deaccessioning has become increasingly untenable, given increasing storage costs and the decreasing likelihood that a large portion of great art will rarely, if ever, be shown. This regulation also restricts necessary mission changes and financial preparation for an uncertain future. We propose an update to the AAM’s current position, one that would give museums the flexibility and autonomy to refine and hone their collections, while ensuring they have the resources needed to best serve their communities.
Instead of a full-fledged ban on deaccessioning, the AAM could require that an artwork up for sale be offered first to other institutions over a certain period of time, prior to a commercial sale that could see the work disappear into a private collection. For example, a Frederic Remington watercolor collecting dust in the warehouse of a contemporary museum in New York or Cleveland might be coveted and exhibited often by a museum in Wyoming or Oklahoma. Deaccessioning has, in this example, directed funds to one museum while strengthening another museum’s collection, and alleviated crowding in storage areas while providing greater access to more works of art to the general public. The prudence of this strategy seems indisputable.
Funds expended for storage are funds not applied to other, more public areas of the museum. We can only wonder how many endowments haven’t been created or strengthened, exhibitions not mounted, museum buildings neglected, expansion plans abandoned, and staff hires not taken place because funds are being siphoned off to storage. Confronting these needs are the strategic moves that assure a museum’s health.
In its present form, the AAM’s deaccessioning policy hinders—rather than facilitates—access to one of America’s greatest sources of cultural capital: the art museum. With some updating, the AAM could usher in a new era where permanent collections in the U.S. are better maintained as the American museum directs its resources towards those works directly related to its mission. Troubled institutions will be better able to keep doors open, while larger institutions, like the Met, may consider opening their doors a little wider. The big winner in all of this, though, is the museum-going public.
Author’s estimations based on telephone interviews of major U. S. museums and museums’ published data online. Our calculations are based on an extreme set of assumptions with respect to exhibit space and collection size. We compute the perimeter of a hypothetical exhibition hall, assume 8-foot ceilings and 24 x 24 inch paintings to compute the maximum number of paintings that can possibly be displayed by a museum. To compute the maximum possible percentage of the collection that could be displayed at any one time, we take this number as a percent of the total number of items in the collection. An estimate of 10 to 25 percent of the numbers provided in the text would be more realistic. Please contact the authors for more detailed methodology and data for other museums: ( at firstname.lastname@example.org); ( or email@example.com).
Walmart is looking to revolutionise farming processes with the use of robotic alternatives to bees.
Taking the form of a multicopter – a type of aerial vehicle that flies using two or more rotating blades – the "bees" would use cameras and sensors to find the locations of crops where they would distribute pollen.
Allegedly achieving in 70 seconds what would have taken a lifeguard at least six minutes, the Little Ripper rescue drone saved two teenage swimmers stuck in a rip current by dropping an inflatable rescue pod.
The rescue, which took place in New South Wales, Australia, was hailed as the first of its kind.
Italian architect Carlo Ratti has designed a system that uses flying robots to replicate the traditional printing process.
"Imagine how this could make the realisation of works of public art both easier and safer, in urban contexts as well as the infrastructure level – for example alongside highways, within railway galleries, on bridges and viaducts," said Carlo Ratti.
Drones could be a valuable tool in construction, widening the spectrum of what's possible in architecture, according to architect Ammar Mirjan.
"We can fly [drones] through and around existing objects, which a person couldn't do or a crane couldn't do," explains Mirjan. They can be programmed to weave simple tensile structures in the air, for example.