Thursday, July 06, 2017

Chicanonautica: Visiting Frida and Diego in Phoenix

Caught Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera from the Jacques and Natasha GelmanCollection at the Heard Museum here in Phoenix. It’s spectacular and inspiring. It’s also very successful. It'll be here until August 20.

There has also been some controversy.

There are some folks who don’t get what all this Mexican stuff has to do with Native American culture, and why it should be in an Indian museum. They don’t see the Aztlán connection. I’m amazed that it has to be explained. Maybe we should start insisting that this should be General Education rather than Ethnic Studies.

As usual--I have seen the work of both artists in Mexico and Casa Azul--seeing the art in person blew me away. I tend to be a lowbrow who likes his art as part of his environment; in this case, I can see going downtown to visit the fine art. It gave a me the itch to get back to my cartooning.

Meanwhile, the Phoenix Metro Area’s Latinoid population is pouring a lot of money into the Heard.

As fitting for our times, Frida dominates the show. The new millennium has made her A goddess for Latinoids, hipsters, and folks of various sexualities.

Today’s culture consumers prefer her inner trip to Diego’s prototype to outward bound Chicanonaut explorations. But it’s interesting to see their work displayed together, and see that the influences goes both ways--sometimes it’s hard to tell them apart. As a writer married to another writer (is it legal in your state?), I see how having a creative partner helps.

The catalogue offers a less intimate look at most of the displayed works, and essays in which the artists discuss each other. Mutual respect is seen. Their relationship had more to it than most: personal, professional, historical. It was something powerful.

And with Frida, art was never confined to paper, or canvas; as the exhibit shows, she was creative in the way she dressed, the way she decorated her home, and the very way she lived. Her influence can be seen in today’s creative young women--back in the 20th century, I saw a lot of them who would dress in bold styles, but who were intimidated by taking that final step to becoming artists themselves. They would settle to be artist’s girlfriends or hangers-on.

Now we have more women artists, and we are better off for it. 

A creative home helps, too. Though often creativity leaks into the home environment whether it’s intended or not. This is the case with Casa Azul, that I have visited twice. Recently, I acquired a book, La Casa Azul: Un Encuentro Con la Existencia, produced to be a souvenir of Museo Frida Kahlo. It featured a lot of photos--including some spectacular panoramic shots. Most of the text is written as if Frida’s ghost was giving a tour. No American museum would get so magic realist.

I have a feeling that this disturbance in the separation between art and life will have a lasting effect on culture in Phoenix.

Ernest Hogan is the author of High Aztech, and his work has appeared in Amazing Stories, Analog, Aztlan, and Altermundos.

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