Art + Fashion: Frida Kahlo

Frida Kahlo, Self-Portrait with Cropped Hair, 1940. Oil on canvas, 15 3/4 x 11″ (40 x 27.9 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of Edgar Kaufmann, Jr. © 2017 Banco de México Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums Trust, Mexico, D.F. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Inspired by Markus Lüpertz’s dapper style when he was in town for the opening of his exhibition at The Phillips Collection, some of our staff decided to take a look at other artists known for their unique fashion sense. Today, we focus on Frida Kahlo.

I would be remiss in not mentioning Mexican painter Frida Kahlo in a discussion of artists whose style influenced their practice. The nonconformist female artist, known widely for her vivid self-portraits, explored questions of identity, gender, class, and race in Mexican society. Kahlo often featured herself in colorful Mexican clothing, referencing her traditional indigenous culture and appreciation of her ancestry. The feminist icon’s style often reflected powerful and deeply personal moments in her life, whether it was admiration for her culture, the political climate in Mexico, her ailing body, or love and heartbreak.

One of her works that is especially relevant to this topicis Self-Portrait with Cropped Hair (aka Short Hair, Don’t Care! as I like to refer to it), which depicts Kahlo wearing an oversized men’s suit, instead of one of the traditional Mexican dresses that she is often shown wearing. Kahlo created this work while separated from her partner Diego Rivera.

Frida Kahlo’s celebration of the female form, down to her un-manicured eyebrows, continues to inspire artists today.

Maria Vizcaino, Associate Director of Gala and Special Events

Refusing Extremes in a Polarized World

Deutsches Motiv—dithyrambisch II (German Motif—Dithyrambic II), 1972. Distemper on canvas, 74 x 78 in. Galerie Michael Werner Märkisch Wilmersdorf, Cologne, London & New York

The Cold War and the global divide between the Capitalist West and the Socialist East led to the politicization of both abstraction and realism. In New York, the new art capital of the postwar era, Abstract Expressionism was cast as a symbol of freedom and individualism that was meant to contrast with the oppressive, restrictive realism of soviet and socialist art. Often covertly through the CIA, the US Government began supporting exhibitions of Abstract Expressionism abroad and helped fund magazines and support critics who promoted American art. In the Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc, the art policy of Socialist Realism—realist art that heroized workers and depicted the progress of the socialist utopia—was presented as the art of the people and was pitted against the imperialistic capitalist West whose art of abstraction was derided as indulgent and bourgeois. Thus, both abstraction and realism were politicized in the Cold War, and Germany—literally split between Socialist East and Capitalist West—embodied this divide.

From this standpoint, Markus Lüpertz’s mix of abstract and representational imagery becomes both more understandable and more engaging. Negotiating between these two positions, Lüpertz’s insistence that the “object is not important” can be understood as a kind of refusal of both extremes of this polarized world. While the human body, or the appearance of helmets or knives inevitably engages German history, Lüpertz often situates these forms within a kind of unknowable, surrealistic setting that keeps them from ever satisfying the desire to “understand.”

Max Rosenberg, 2016-17 UMD-Phillips Collection Postdoctoral Fellow in Modern and Contemporary Art

Art + Fashion: Georgia O’Keeffe

Inspired by Markus Lüpertz’s dapper style when he was in town for the opening of his exhibition at The Phillips Collection, some of our staff decided to take a look at other artists known for their unique fashion sense. Today, we focus on Georgia O’Keeffe.

(left) Alfred Stieglitz, Georgia O’Keeffe, Prospect Mountain, Lake George, 1927. © Board of Trustees, National Gallery of Art, Washington (right) Bruce Weber, portrait of Georgia O’Keeffe, Abiquiu, N.M., 1984, gelatin silver print, 14 by 11 inches (35.6 by 27.9 centimeters). Bruce Weber and Nan Bush Collection

Georgia O’Keeffe was very deliberate in how she dressed—she resisted conventional attire of the time like corsets, and instead made her own clothing. While her paintings are largely colorful, O’Keeffe most often wore black and white swaths of fabric that some say leaned towards masculinity, which may seem odd since her work is often associated with the female body. However, Wanda Corn, the curator of Georgia O’Keeffe: Living Modern at the Brooklyn museum, believes that O’Keeffe “… created a signature body to go along with her signature art. She covered her body and head with abstract shapes, like she did her canvases.”

O’Keeffe resisted being labeled as a feminist, even though her husband, photographer Alfred Stieglitz, encouraged that interpretation of her paintings. O’Keeffe wasn’t trying to become a fashion icon, but instead simply wanted to forge her own path, both in how she dressed and how she painted. I certainly think she achieved that.

Remy Kauffmann, Stewardship Manager, Corporate Relations and Partnerships