Frida, Diego and Patti at the AGO

March 4, 2013 at 10:01 pm (Uncategorized) ()

Note: A few weeks back subscribers to this blog received a very early draft of this post rife with errors – one subscriber wondered if I were drunk when I wrote it – sadly no. Just careless. In the end the original post about the Frida Kahlo/Diego Rivera exhibition has been re-written and incorporated into a note about the Patti Smith exhibit there. Sorry for the confusion.

Sure, I know the Surrealist critique of museums and art galleries. They are mausoleums. A place where art is detached from the real world, where it was conceived and created,  and turned into a commodity. The artist becomes the producer; the visiter the consumer. We go to the art gallery. We view the art. We leave. We return to our humdrum existence. Separate.

And yes, I agree, but there’s just something about standing in that presence of such beauty, such creativity that’s humbling. Sue me, I like mausoleums.

The Frida Kahlo/Diego Rivera exhibition at the AGO ended in January. I saw it twice; once with my family and once with my son’s Grade 4 class I’m not sure what they made of Ford Hospital, a painting of a naked and bloody Kahlo in the aftermath of a miscarriage) . The title of the exhibition though reveals the root of the problem: He painted for the people; she painted to survive. The myth of Kahlo and Rivera looms larger than their work.

The story is well-known. Rivera the cubist, Rivera the muralist, Rivera the revolutionary. Meets. Kahlo the bohemian recovering from a near-fatal road accident. A spark. They marry. They fight. They divorce. They remarry. They create lasting art. Rivera paints revolutionary murals while Kahlo turns inward and paints a series of haunting self-portraits filled with pain and suffering. Life-long communists, they flirted with Trotskyism (and Trotsky, if ya know what I mean…), all the while hobnobbing with very bourgeois elements. Kahlo’s story makes for a better tale, as the victim of personal tragedies and Rivera’s in\fidelities, her work overshadows his.

And that’s why the exhibit was so vital. Despite all the hype, Kahlo and Rivera were stunning artists, and many of their greatest works were included in the show. (for some reason though, my favourite of Rivera’s pieces was the relatively traditional “The Mathematician” from 1919.)  The sectarian in me bristles a little at the notion they were life-long communists. Rivera was expelled from the Communist Party and spent a few years as an independent before moving toward Trotsky. After Rivera broke with Trotsky, he returned to the Communist Party. OK, Trotsky wasn’t so great, but to go back to Stalin having known better is a bit much. C’est la vie. They made great art despite the politics.

A mate of mine reckons that Patti Smith’s cover of Them’s “Gloria” is the standard to which cover versions should be held. It is an astonishing piece of work. Hell, Horses is some kind of brilliant work. And of late there’s been a renewed interest in Smith’s work. Hey, I’m spending time re-listening to her catalogue. Anyway, the AGO is hosting a collection of her photographs under the title “Camera Solo.”

You can  see the Patti Smith photography exhibition until June, and a week back I did just that. Now Patti Smith is an interesting woman who has led an interesting life. Her friends are interesting, and so are her interests. So her photos should be as well. Except, that they’re nothing special. Oh sure, the subjects are interesting and so is her commentary, but the pictures themselves, while pictures of interesting things, are not that interesting. Yeah, I read Rimbaud and Blake in high school too, and my daughter takes mean snaps but… I should clarify. This sounds like sour grapes. I admire Patti Smith’s work as a singer/songwriter and as a writer (Just Kids is terrific), but  I doubt these shots would be at the AGO if she weren’t Patti Smith. You should go, but while you’re there though, walk across the hall and see the exquisite photos of Josef  Sudek, and you’ll see what I mean.

And lest you think this is Patti Smith week or something, I give you fair-warning I’ll be posting a review of her upcoming performance at the AGO later this week. Yeah, I’m pretty excited about that.

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1 Comment

  1. Patti Smith: Live at the AGO | Notes from Underground said,

    […] followed was an intimate seventy minutes of music, poems and conversation. In my post about her photography show I used the word interesting to describe Patti Smith and her life. Fascinating might be a better […]

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