By focusing on Kahlo’s life and her suffering rather than her art, this memorabilia-stuffed exhibition stifles her burning visionary brilliancy
This feels wrong. I am looking at Frida Kahlo’s prosthetic leg. There is a magical red boot on it. The matching boot is also in the display case, yet the woman who wore the leg and boots is long gone. She died in 1954 when she was 47. Would she want her artificial limb to outlive her like this?
It’s true, she wore it bravely. Everything about Kahlo was courageous. She was a revolutionary, a passionate lover, a bold artist. As a child she survived infantile paralysis, then in 1925, when she was 18, she was in a bus crash that left her with lifelong disability and pain. At the heart of the V&A’s highly unusual and problematic retrospective is a shrine to that pain. There are corsets and body casts on which she painted the communist hammer and sickle; medicines and painkillers, crutches and built-up shoes. However, there are simply not enough of her compelling works of art.
Kahlo was, as this exhibition reveals with sensationalist clarity, someone who suffered. Yet she was also someone who created. She did not endure her life. She transfigured it, into blazing, visionary paintings. These take a back seat at the V&A to Kahlo’s clothes, makeup, and iconic image. I suppose this is what artistic fame looks like in 2018.