• U.S.

Art: Bomb Beribboned

3 minute read

Flutter of the week in Manhattan was caused by the first exhibition of paintings by famed Muralist Diego Rivera’s German-Mexican wife, Frida Kahlo. Too shy to show her work before, black-browed little Frida has been painting since 1926, when an automobile smashup put her in a plaster cast, “bored as hell.”

According to a letter quoted by Old Rivera Fan Bertram D. Wolfe, who introduces her to the smart world in this month’s Vogue, she never knew she was a Surrealist until Old Surrealist André Breton came to Mexico and told her so. In a note on her exhibition last week at the Julien Levy Gallery, Surrealist Breton expanded in precious French, ending by describing her painting as “a ribbon around a bomb.”

This was a fairly exact, if flattering, figure. Little Frida’s pictures, mostly painted in oil on copper, had the daintiness of miniatures, the vivid reds and yellows of Mexican tradition and the playfully bloody fancy of an unsentimental child.

Most charming piece: Self-Portrait with Heart, Frida’s record of a period of unhappiness with Diego, showing her with tears on her cheeks, a ferrule sticking through the hole in her body where her heart was, two tiny imps playing seesaw on the ferrule. Political bit: a full-length portrait of Frida holding a scroll inscribed: “To Leon Trotsky, with all love, I dedicate this painting, 7 November, 1937.”

Frida Rivera’s esteem for her house guest, Exile Leon Trotsky, antedates but probably does not surpass André Breton’s. From Mexico last summer Poet Breton and Painter Diego Rivera issued a furious manifesto, calling on all independent revolutionary intellectuals, “whose voice is drowned by the odious tumult of the regimented falsifiers,” to form a world-wide union against the oppression of art by any political regime, especially the Stalinist.

Fortnight ago this manifesto exploded in London’s Surrealist Group, led by scholarly, pale-faced, silken-voiced Herbert Read, who occupies the magnificently ambiguous position of arch Surrealist apologist and editor of the Burlington Magazine, England’s most conservative art publication. Presented by Professor Read, the Breton manifesto led to a bitter tiff between Communist and Trotskyist members, finally to a breakup. Last word came from Gallery Director E. L. T. Mesens, who suggested that the English Surrealists had never been worth their salt anyway, having always abstained from such direct action as driving horses into theatre foyers on first nights of distasteful plays, or “letting off revolvers in the street while distributing leaflets.”

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