Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
June 1 – August 18, 2013
Fiery passion and the warm, festive atmosphere of Mexico define an exhibition opening on June 1 at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City. Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera and Masterpieces of Modern Mexico from the Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection showcases more than 100 paintings, sculptures, photographs and drawings collected by the Gelmans in their adopted homeland of Mexico.
“When the Don Hall Initiative was created at the beginning of my tenure with the Nelson-Atkins, we hoped to bring exhibitions here that would reverberate in the community,” said the Mexico City-born Julián Zugazagoitia, CEO and Director. “The Gelman Collection has universal appeal but is so close to my personal history that we are thrilled to present these masterpieces to Kansas City.”
Jacques Gelman, a Russian-born film production mogul, and Natasha, his Czechoslovakian-born wife, became Mexican citizens in 1942 following the couple’s marriage in 1941. Over the next five decades, the Gelmans supported generations of internationally renowned Mexican artists. They established friendships with and collected art by such icons of Mexican modernism as Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros, Rufino Tamayo, and Gunther Gerzso, among others.
“This is a rich and deeply personal collection,” said Stephanie Knappe, Assistant Curator of American Art. “One can’t help but imagine what it must have been like to have Diego Rivera paint your portrait, or have three Gerzsos hanging above your sofa. Who hasn’t walked into a museum and played the game of ‘What would I take home to hang in my living room?’ The Gelmans didn’t have to play this game, and our visitors will experience firsthand how intimately the Gelmans lived with their art.”
The Gelman Collection is the realization of an intimate collaboration spanning more than 40 years; it was the predominant passion of Jacques and Natasha. The collection began in 1943 with Rivera’s portrait of Natasha Gelman and continued to grow even after Jacques’ death in 1986. The couple collected art without hesitation. They acquired the canvases of Kahlo and Rivera when there were only a handful of collectors in Mexico.
“Beyond sharing iconic paintings by Kahlo and Rivera, this exhibition celebrates the breadth of the Gelmans’ collection and the richness and diversity of Mexican art,” said Knappe. “As the Gelmans continued to meet artists, their tastes changed and their collection grew. Abstract compositions joined the figurative paintings that hung on their walls. Their deeply felt passion for Mexican art prompted a desire that their collection continue to evolve and express the vitality of contemporary Mexican art long after they were no longer able to add it to their collection themselves.”
Although their styles were radically different, Kahlo and Rivera were similarly captivated by painting’s potential to explore the human condition. Rivera painted massive murals depicting the heroic struggle of Mexican society forging its future; Kahlo explored the inner workings of her soul, which reflect the female condition today, in a series of self-portraits that revealed her tragic medical history and affirmed her Mexican identity.
“We are so grateful to the Mexican government, the Mexican Consulate and all the entities that came together to make this superb exhibition possible,” said Zugazagoitia. “They have made it possible for everyone in this region to celebrate this exhibition.”
The Gelman collection is, in and of itself, a work of art. It is also a work in progress. Owing to the enthusiasm they felt for Mexican art, the Gelmans desired that their collection be kept up to date. Works by significant contemporary artists such as Paula Santiago, Betsabeé Romero, Francis Alÿs and Gabriel Orozco have recently entered the Gelman collection. Thanks to the discerning eye of its president, Robert Littman, the collection continues to grow and evolve according to the forward-thinking couple’s wishes.
Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera and Masterpieces of Modern Mexico from the Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection runs through Aug. 18 at the Nelson-Atkins and showcases an exceptional private collection that not only highlights the rich and vibrant artistic traditions of the Mexico of yesterday, but underscores the inventiveness and vitality of Mexican art today.