Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera at the center of the new Norton exhibit which opens on Saturday



“The Norton is back! “

This is what director Ghislain d’Humières said on Wednesday as the museum unveiled its first major exhibition of the season.

And it looks like the museum is indeed back. Her opening salute, “Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera and Mexican Modernism from the Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection”, which runs from Saturday to February 6, is her greatest ode to Mexican modernism as well as the largest group of works by Kahlo and Rivera will never be exhibited there.

"Self-portrait with necklace" (1933) by Frida Kahlo, is included in "Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera and Mexican Modernism from the Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection," exhibited at the Norton Museum of Art.

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Exhibition curator Ellen Roberts noted that Mexican modernism, despite its importance in the art world, had never been a priority for Norton, which was founded 80 years ago.

A year before Kahlo’s death, one of his paintings was seen at the Norton during the 1953 exhibition “Mexican Paintings: A Group of Twelve”. But for nearly 70 years, no other work by Kahlo has been on display there, the museum said.

Rivera’s work is part of Norton’s collection, so his work was on view as late as 2019, Roberts said.

The exhibition features 23 works by Kahlo, including eight self-portraits, and 11 works by Rivera. There are over 150 works, including paintings and works on paper collected by Jacques and Natasha Gelman. Works by artists in the couple’s orbit as well as photographs of them are included in the exhibition.

Clothing can also be seen influenced by Kahlo’s unique style, which reflected her mixed heritage, Roberts said. Kahlo’s father was German and his mother was Mexican of indigenous ancestry.

“The exhibition is about the works but also about the relationships between artists and their wider circle,” said Roberts.

"Calla lily seller" (1943) by Diego Rivera, is included in "Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera and Mexican Modernism from the Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection."

Kahlo, who had polio as a child, was seriously injured in a bus crash that shattered her pelvis and spine and left her in pain for the rest of her life. She married Rivera in 1929 and they divorced in 1940, but remarried the same year. Their relationship was turbulent and complicated.

Roberts told the Daily News that Kahlo and Rivera’s importance depended on their being at the center of Mexico’s post-revolutionary revival movement.

Political activists, they embraced communism in response to the rise of fascism in Europe and were radical in advocating for social justice for all Mexicans, especially indigenous peoples. They believed that indigenous Mexican culture was just as important – if not more – than European culture, Roberts said.

A 1937 gelatin silver print by an unknown artist of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera is included in "Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera and Mexican Modernism from the Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection."

Rivera was the most important Mexican muralist of his time, Roberts said, and this art form was key to Mexican modernism as artists often used it to explore the country’s past as well as its present and future.

“It was something they were very immersed in after the revolution, when they were trying to define what it meant to be a modern Mexican,” said Roberts.

Kahlo was in some ways the opposite of Rivera, she said, as her focus was more private unlike Rivera’s more public approach. Her much smaller works depict her experiences, and while her art is generally seen as too personal, she actually explored many of the same issues as Rivera, Roberts said. These questions included gender and the country’s colonial past.

Kahlo, who had wanted to be a doctor before his accident, carried his fascination with science into his work, Roberts said.

The mix of Mexican modernism will extend to the museum’s restaurant and store. The first will feature a menu inspired by the exhibit, including bisque de calabaza, grilled shrimp tacos, Oaxacan chicken mole, quesilla flan and tequila cocktails. The store has a variety of themed items, including Kahlo-inspired jewelry and clothing.

With this exhibit, the museum will be open seven days a week as it returns to the schedule in place before the COVID-19 pandemic disrupts life in Palm Beach County. The museum partially reopened in November after being closed since March 2020.

Ghislain d'Humières, Director and CEO of the Norton Museum of Art, welcomes guests during the press preview of

“The Norton is back in the business of showing art,” d’Humières said at Wednesday’s event, as he shared his joy at the full reopening of the museum and the return of “the programming, learning and community engagement ”.

Noting that its previous rejection of online art viewing had evaporated during the pandemic – when that was pretty much the only option for many museums – d’Humières acknowledged that the technology was useful in improving some experiences and expand the scope of the museum. The museum will continue to offer online programming through Norton Channel, he said.

The Kahlo-Rivera exhibit was planned by its predecessor before the pandemic, d’Humières said. Even though it was a big business, he added, the programming around it was even more important in making it relevant to the whole community. “We are there for everyone,” he said.

When he took the reins in January, d’Humières was surprised that the Norton was not bilingual in his approach. But that has changed. “All signs are in Spanish and English,” he said, adding that the website conversion will take longer.

Programming director Glenn Roberts said there are over 30 programs related to the Kahlo-Diego exhibit.

The Norton has much of its regular lineup, including the popular Art After Dark, in preparation for the season as well as upcoming exhibits – “Saul Steinberg: A Writer Who Draws” runs November 19 through March 6; and “From Hassam to Wyeth: Gifts from Doris and Shouky Shaheen” runs from December 10 to May 1.

The museum has strict COVID-19 protocols in place. Guests aged 12 and over will be required to show proof of a negative professional COVID-19 PCR test performed within 72 hours; or a negative COVID-19 rapid antigen test performed within 24 hours. Alternatively, they can voluntarily show proof of COVID-19 vaccination (along with valid photo ID for ages 18 and over). Masks must be worn at all times, regardless of negative tests or vaccination status.

Opening hours and entrance prices vary; visit norton.org for details.

Also to be seen at Norton:

“Dynamic, Squalid, Splendid: Themes of the City” (until November 7) is drawn exclusively from the museum’s collection of prints and drawings. The exhibition contains around 40 works and aims to fulfill two objectives: first, to make our visitors better acquainted with the collection of works on paper, including those by lesser-known artists; on the other hand, to give food for thought at a time when the dynamic life of cities stops unexpectedly and their future often seems uncertain.

“Chaim Gross: Bodies in Motion” (until December 12) celebrates Tomoko Supak’s recent donation of Chaim Gross’s sculpture “Standing Figure of 1936” to the museum.

“Frida and Me” (until December 5) is an intimate collection of paintings, works on paper and photographs based on collections that take into account Kahlo’s influence. This is seen through the work of contemporary artists, such as Miriam Schapiro and Yasumasa Morimura, who faithfully engage in Kahlo’s self-portraits, while also highlighting artists who established Mexican modernism alongside him, most notably Rufino. Tamayo and Tina Modotti.

“Origin Stories: Photography of Africa and Its Diaspora” (until January 16). In April 2021, Norton’s photography committee acquired a monumental work by Yinka Shonibare CBE, titled The Medusa. With Shonibare’s work as a catalyst, Origin Stories: Photography of Africa and Its Diaspora confronts the intertwined relationship between identity and colonialism in communities across the African continent and throughout the African Diaspora.

The other half of the sky: Chinese women painters of the twentieth century (until January 23) complete Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera and Mexican Modernism: from the Jacques and Natasha Gelman collection. Zhou Lianxia (1909 – 2000), Lu Xiaoman (1903 – 1965) and Wu Qingxia (1910 – 2008) are known as the three greatest female painters of the Republican period (1912 – 1949) in China. The work presented in this installation is Butterflies and Poppies by Zhou Lianxia, ​​who was born just two years after Kahlo.


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