Judy Chicago’s only Metropolitan DC-area appearance and book signing to present her latest literary achievement: Frida Kahlo: Face to Face
SUNDAY, OCTOBER 24, 12:30–2:30 P.M.
Free and open to the public. No reservations required. Includes free admission to the museum. Books will be available for sale and signing.
Artist, author, educator, and feminist Judy Chicago will discuss her recently published book Frida Kahlo: Face to Face. Deeply personal and brilliantly perceptive, this volume is a dynamic reconsideration of the life and work of the iconic Mexican artist and reframes Frida Kahlo for contemporary audiences. Essays by Chicago and art historian Frances Borzello explore Kahlo’s many facets: woman, artists, historical figure and inspiration and are accompanied by a handpicked selection of a hundred portraits that speaks to the full spectrum of women’s experience.
The foundation for this project began in the 1970s, when Chicago was a young emerging woman artist exploring her predecessors. In the process of this research, she discovered Kahlo, then a relatively obscure painter known primarily—if at all—as “the wife of Diego Rivera who also paints.” She gave a slide lecture on Kahlo and her fellow unknown or underappreciated women artists. Christopher Lyon, a student in Los Angeles during this period, stumbled upon her lecture. Now, thirty-plus years later, as the editor-in-chief of Prestel Publishing in New York, Lyon decided that it was time to reexamine Kahlo’s career and he turned to Chicago, whose lecture introduced him to Kahlo, to write the book. With the guarantee that she could work with an art historian—in this case, Borzello, an expert on the history of female self-portraiture—Chicago agreed and Face to Face was born.
The purpose of the book is twofold. “One, we wanted to look at Kahlo’s overall career,” Chicago explained. “And two, we wanted to look at her self-portraiture in the history of female self-portraiture.” To Chicago, there is a major problem with the way Kahlo’s career is often evaluated only in terms of her biography: relating her painting as a response to the events going on around her denies Kahlo (and other women artists) her proper agency, suggesting that her work is a reaction to Rivera’s actions rather than a function of the hard work and effort great art requires. Chicago and Borzello instead argue for studying Kahlo’s art in two contexts: her relation to the mainstream, but also in the context of women’s art history including, for example, the success of women like Rachel Ruysch in seventeenth-century still-life painting traditions in Holland.
“I hope that the book is a contribution to a new way of seeing Kahlo,” Chicago emphasized. Although Face to Face is the twelfth book that Chicago has written, it is her first to address an individual woman artist. Yet there is a common goal among her projects: to overcome the erasure of women’s achievements.
Chicago will be at NMWA on October 24 to discuss Face to Face. Her visit marks just one of the many occasions in which she has stood up for women artists and their need for institutional support. “Ever since Wilhelmina Holladay announced her plans to open NMWA, I have been a fervent supporter of the museum, especially since art by women still constitutes only 3–5 percent of the holdings of major museum collections,” she said. “Over and over again women artists are discussed as if they had no history.” Frida Kahlo: Face to Face represents another of Chicago’s valiant efforts to fight that discrimination.
–Rebecca Park is editorial intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts