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Viva La Vida - The Background To The Exhibition

Viva La Vida
Frida Karlo, Diego Rivera and Mexican Modernism

29 January - 30 April 2000
City Gallery Wellington, Civic Square

Centred around 22 masterworks by Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera -- two of the most revered artists of the 20th century -- this outstanding exhibition delves into the heart and soul of the Mexican nation. The Mexican Modernists created some of the most colourful and dynamic art of this century. Through their painting they tell the story of a nation forging its own identity. A rare opportunity to experience the charge of modern Mexican art and the magnetism and power of Kahlo and Rivera, which has made their work and their relationship legendary.

Frida Kahlo's work is already well known and greatly loved in New Zealand. However, unless New Zealanders have been fortunate enough to travel internationally, they will have until now only seen Frida Kahlo's images in reproduction. This exhibition represents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for many people in this country to experience the direct power of the original works.

Diego Rivera, Kahlo's husband, is represented by nine important works. When viewed alongside Kahlo's work, Rivera's paintings take us into the depths of their difficult but mutually inspirational relationship. We glimpse their obsessive and at times violent love.

A number of outstanding works by more contemporary artists complete the exhibition, conveying the diversity, intensity and exuberance of Mexican art. Steeped in the richness of Mexican culture, many of the images included in the exhibition articulate the sense of belonging and affinity with the land and its histories, which is also of vital significance in New Zealand Maori culture.

Viva La Vida not only conveys the passions of the painters but also of the collectors Natasha and Jacques Gelman, who acquired all the works in the exhibition. The collection is remarkable for the number of portraits it contains -- many of them depict the Gelmans. Diego Rivera's life-sized, reclining portrait of Natasha is gloriously sensual and remarkable for its outrageous symbolism and glamour. Frida Kahlo's portrait of the same sitter is, by contrast, coolly detached.

Russian and Czechoslovakian by birth, the Gelmans settled in Mexico in 1941 and subsequently made their fortune in the Mexican film industry, collecting modern Mexican and European art for over 50 years. The Gelmans gathered one of the most significant private collections of Mexican art in the world, from which this exhibition has been selected. The Gelman Collection features a wide variety of work by the iconic Mexican artists of the modernist era, including Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, Jose Clemente Orozco, David Alfaro Siqeiros and Rufino Tamayo.

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