KAHLO: PLACES OF THEIR OWN at
the McMichael Canadian Art Collection
(10365 Islington, Kleinburg) until
September 9. 905-893-1121. Rating:
NNNN Rating: NNNN
with places of their own, what could easily have come off as a purely academic exercise ends up feeling just right. Art historian Sharyn Udall has spent a decade documenting the links between Canada’s Emily Carr, American icon Georgia O’Keeffe and Mexican great Frida Kahlo, women whose lifespans and aesthetic sensibilities overlapped but whose work, until now, has been seen as utterly independent, even as each independently became a feminist icon.
In additional to exploring North America’s indigenous cultures and (in the case of O’Keeffe and Carr) magnificent landscape using a surrealism-informed art idiom, all three women attained legendary status: Carr as the loner revelling in Pacific Northwest coastal imagery in the shadow of the Group of Seven O’Keeffe for “discovering” the American Southwest and eclipsing her photographer partner, Alfred Stieglitz and Kahlo, who suffered chronic pain after a streetcar accident, for transcending her anguish through art while bedding Diego Rivera, Leon Trotsky and less famous lovers of both sexes.
Fortunately, Kahlo’s current fame is based on the recognition of her artistic genius.
Udall’s friend Megan Bice of the McMichael has mounted a touring show to coincide with the publication of Udall’s book, Carr, O’Keeffe, Khalo: Places Of Their Own, and the hype has been huge. It doesn’t hurt that Kahlo is the art world’s woman of the moment, with a movie biopic coming out this year and her paintings going for more than $5 million U.S. on the auction block.
In mounting this show, Bice has skipped O’Keeffe’s signature highly sexed floral paintings, since they don’t do as much to support Udall’s thesis as her landscape and mystical imagery. Carr’s art has never looked better than in the company of her more internationally renowned artistic sisters.
Thanks to their rarity, to draconian Mexican laws (national treasures must be in the country during elections) and to the reluctance of collectors (including Madonna) to loan their pieces, only 14 of Kahlo’s fewer than 200 paintings are in this show. Her fame is so huge right now that that’s enough. People will pay the $12 just to get a whiff of her myth.DH