Friday, February 15, 2002
Washington If ever a show was ideal for the National Museum of Women in the Arts, "Places of Their Own: Emily Carr, Georgia O'Keeffe, and Frida Kahlo" is it. The first exhibition to combine these three important 20th century artists, it has already broken attendance records in Toronto and Santa Fe.
The National Museum of Women in the Arts is hoping for big crowds here as well, and has optimistically upped the admission fee to $8 for adults, from the usual $5. But it is also offering free admission on the first Sunday and Wednesday of each month until the show closes May 12.
The 62 works on view, most of them rarely seen in the United States, explore the artistic and biographical links among these North American artists, all of whom blossomed between the two world wars: Emily Carr (1871-1945) in Canada; Georgia O'Keeffe (1887-1986) in the United States and Frida Kahlo (1907-1954) in Mexico. The most refreshing surprise here is that Georgia O'Keeffe is not the star of this show ï¿½ in part because of relatively weak representation. The exhibition belongs to Emily Carr, who is far too little known in the United States. Carr's powerful, passionate paintings of lush Canadian rain forests will astound audiences unfamiliar with her work.
Frida Kahlo is also revealed in unusual depth with 15 significant works, including rare, sometimes surreal still lifes.
The three shared a passion for the natural world, as well as an interest in and concern for the surrounding cultures. Carr's earliest paintings are of indigenous Indian villages, totem poles and mythical beings in her native British Columbia. O'Keeffe painted Penitente crosses and kachina dolls, the most poetic of which, "Kokopelli With Snow" from 1942, hangs in this show.
College of Santa Fe art historian Sharyn Udall conceived the idea for this exhibition seven years ago, when she first noticed the remarkable resonance between O'Keeffe and Carr. Both had defined, through their art, the look of the places where they lived: "What O'Keeffe did for the colorful hills and high desert of Santa Fe, Carr had done for the west coast of Canada," says Udall. Their interest in expressing a national identity through their art prompted Udall to add Kahlo to the mix.
"Kahlo was working with the same kind of idea," says Udall, "trying to express what she called her Mexicanidad, or Mexican essence, roots and spirit." Kahlo herself was a living example of the blended culture of Mexico: her mother was half indigenous Indian, half Spanish. With her husband, the famous Mexican muralist Diego Rivera, Kahlo was also deeply involved with the left-wing revolutionary politics that helped shape modern Mexico between 1910 and 1920.