Frida Kahlo of the paintings has The Look. Frida Kahlo of the photos does not. Why?
Our own Morgan Meis in The Smart Set:
It’s The Look that gets to you. Frida Kahlo took up a variety of subject matter and dabbled in a number of styles. All of it worth seeing. But in the end it is the self-portraits that endure and that fuel her ever-increasing stature in 20th century art. That’s because in the portraits you get The Look. The Look is the Frida Kahlo stare. If you’ve seen any of her self-portraits then you have seen it. It is an expression that barely changes throughout a lifetime of paintings. Costumes change, parrots flutter into the frame, monkeys come and go. The Look never wavers. Walking through the major exhibit currently hanging at the Philadelphia Museum of Art or flipping through the catalog, it’s clear that The Look starts in about 1930 with the Self-Portrait of that year and keeps right on going through the last great self-portrait, Self-Portrait with Medallion, in 1948.
There’s no Frida without The Look. In fact, as time goes on and her living memory recedes further into the distance all she will be is The Look, and The Look will be her. It’s also nice that the show at the Philadelphia Museum contains a whole section of photographs taken of and by Frida over the years because it gives us something to contrast with The Look. The first and most obvious thing to note about The Look is that it is hard, harder than any version of Frida you see in the photographs. It is bold and it is uncompromising. The Look is even a little bit scary. The lips are invariably set together and sometimes slightly pursed. The face is set and without expression. The eyes look directly at the viewer, though, importantly, her head is almost always turned slightly to the left or to the right, as if she is looking away from something else and then has suddenly directed The Look straight out of the painting and into the world of the viewer.