Frida Kahlo: Face to Face
18 June 2011
During my second year at university, I initially discovered the work of Judy Chicago. I was working on a group project with 'Rubix' and we were researching themes based around Busby Berkeley, Journeys and a quote which led us to the idea of 'A Dinner Party;' it was then of course that Judy Chicago's, Dinner Party came into our research, an immensely important feminist work consisting (in brief) a tablecloth embroidered with the names of empowering women ( more about that here). When given the opportunity to attend a talk with American Artist, Chicago, I couldn't refuse.
Chicago was predominantly in discussion about her recent book 'Frida Kahlo; Face To Face' Chicago outlined that the book is essentially a discussion about Kahlo's work and Chicago describes that instead of most Art history books, she didn't want to re-create that omnipotent art historian voice, which often convinces the reader that whatever is being written is the absolute truth, and cannot be disputed. A feeling, which I am sure many have felt when reading a hefty volume about an artist as exposed as Kahlo. This being said, although Kahlo is well- known, she is perhaps mis-represented, according to Chicago at least. Although many are aware of her name, Chicago details that some are perhaps not aware of the breadth of her work. The majority of books about Kahlo tend to focus upon her self portraits, these being the most infamous of her work, but as the lecture went on Chicago showed slides of work, of which, many, (including myself) had never seen before and were very different in style to the works I Had been familiar with.
Chicago discussed how, often, female artists have been mis-represented throughout history, which is not the fault of art historians, as how can they comment on work which has been unarchived, mis- restored or lost completely, which is why only recently female artists have been able to in some way come into their own.
It is no that their art is unfairly criticised, it is simply that many surviving, important female works have been placed in an incorrect context, historians attempting to skew and squeeze certain works within the existing male dominated narrative of Art History. Perhaps the themes and issues being explored, are naturally personal, therefore sometimes gender specific. These works contain their own mode of enquiry, which does not fit with any existing model, but needs to be viewed in the context of an artists life or compared with previously unseen autobiographical elements, or in Kahlo's case, a full cache of work. Within her book, Chicago is outlining various phases of Kahlos' life and setting her work accordingly in the correct context.
Chicago emphasises that her book is first and foremost a discussion, therefore is still open to the opinion of the reader and shows a balanced discussion between Chicago and another art historian, allowing the reader to form their own opinions as well as consider the facts placed before them in the book.
Chicago was engaging as a speaker, yet I often dislike talks which appeared too rehearsed and formal, therefore when Chicago veered off her script, her outbursts and personal opinions were in the end the most interesting parts of the talk.