Show us your pain(t)
Art reviews are generally written within the opening week.
One supposes this is both to provide the largest possible window of time for the reading-public to become the visiting-public and to create impetus for galleries to invite underpaid journalists to quaff cheap bubbles and mill around with expensive people on opening night.
As you may have noticed I regularly fail to review things within this holy glow. (I also fail to be invited to (m)any openings. This is a fact, not a cry for help.)
In fact, even when I manage to go in those golden early days, as I did with the Frida show last week, I end up sitting on my thoughts for too long.
Technically entitled ‘Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, from the Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection’, but universally referred to as ‘Frida’, the show opened on the 25th of June and reveals the curatorial timetabling black hole that must have faced AGNSW by running all the way through to the 9th of October.
I went last week, fighting my way through the slavering Monday morning crowds (no joke, it was sold out for the Monday morning session) of Eastern Suburb dowagers, mums on the school-holiday-descent-into-hell and insta-happy art students (of which I admit to being one).
After the show I sat on the cushion of my disappointment for a full week.
I’ve rather given the game away in that one sentence but honestly, after all the hype around this show, the deflating feeling of walking through the (small) space is one I’d like to save you from.
The largest problem is one I rarely complain about… size.
Being a firm believer in quality not quantity, I am loath to say it but there simply isn’t enough work to fill even the tidy allotment of rooms. To disguise this issue the clever curators have devised all manner of photograph walls, montage walls, timeline walls and huge-reproduction-of-photographs-of-Frida walls. Despite these best efforts, the show feels thin. There are maybe a dozen or so of her works and half as many again of his (but I mean, who really cares what Diego did when he wasn’t being an admittedly terrible life partner? We all know he’s included to facilitate the ‘boo hiss’ of the Frida fans).
Though they talk more to the cult of Frida, life-as-lived-art than anything else, the timeline walls are somewhat interesting on a factual level. This is more than can be said for the photography montage walls which are pure indulgence. Together with the odd array of brightly coloured feature walls the effect is less art show than anthropological sandpit.
And therein lies the second major problem with this show – it doesn’t read as an exhibition of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera’s work; it reads as a tea-candle lit slightly-creepy homage to the cult of personality that Frida, in death, has become. Enthralled by her tragic life story, people peer ghoulishly into the intentionally-flat paint, seeking out glimpses of paint and suffering, gleefully commenting to each other in hushed awe-filled tones “…so strong, you know, to go through so much and still paint”.
Fair play, Frida Kahlo had an undeniably rough go of it, the arc of which she increasingly chronicled in her body of work. But the show feels exploitative, dwelling gratuitously on her pain, when what should be in focus is the paint. After all, that’s what we’re all here to see isn’t it?
‘Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, from the Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection’ is on now till 8 October at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, and will set you back an exorbitant $18 as an adult, $16 as a concession or $14 as a member. My recommendation is to skip the horrendous queues (for tickets, for entry, to see any piece of work unimpeded) and head straight to Chiswick at the Gallery where you can blow the entry price on an enjoyable Bloody Mary.