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When the Denver Art Museum (DAM) was asked to be part of the traveling Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, and Mexican Modernism exhibition, DAM curator Rebecca Hart immediately knew she had to outsource. The exhibit had the potential to be impactful, not just because it features notable artists Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, but also because it was an opportunity to honor Denver’s Hispanic population.
Echos of Kahlo and Rivera are all over Denver—murals on Santa Fe Drive and Morrison Road are inspired by the same Aztec and Mayan myths as Kahlo and Rivera. Both artists played a part in the growth of Mexican Muralism, which is also apparent in Denver’s art scene. Not to mention, approximately one third of Denver’s population identifies as Hispanic or Latino.
All of which “puts a really big responsibility on our shoulders to do the show well,” Hart says.
Hart knew she couldn’t create the exhibit alone, so she tasked Mexico City design firm Esrawe Studio and Monterrey, Mexico-based architecture office Cadena & Asociados with all the spatial, environmental, and graphic design. The companies’ help was crucial in both the initial creation of the exhibit and the COVID-19-friendly redesign.
The DAM also supplemented the traveling exhibit with work from their own collections, partners in Denver, and ancient pieces collected from all over the country, pulling together more than 150 works. Victoria Lyall, the Jan and Frederick Mayer Curator of Art of the Ancient Americas at the DAM, worked with Hart to gather ancient pieces that connected with the work in the show. Supplementing the traveling exhibit was necessary in telling the full story of both Mexican Modernism and the inspiration behind Kahlo and Rivera’s art, Lyall says.
“Frida and Diego had their own collection of pre-Colombian art,” says Lyall. “They were part of the independence movement in Mexico and were really looking to the past for inspiration.”
Lyall and Hart hope the exhibit serves to connect past influences with modern Mexican art while shining a light on parts of the Mexican modernism movement that have been overlooked, like the role of female artists. While Rivera and Kahlo created art at the same time, Rivera’s work was more popular during their lifetime, filling up museums and receiving critical praise. By gathering supplemental works, Hart and Lyall hoped to provide light to the inequities of the time.
“One of the stories that hasn’t been told are those of the women artists involved in this movement,” says Hart. “We’ve made a real effort. We’ve borrowed a few extra works by women artists to augment the exhibition so that we can really tell the story very clearly. We think it’s really important that people understand art movements don’t happen in a vacuum, and that the women of the time had profound contribution and effect in the development of Mexican modernism.”
But, like most things in 2020, the work that went into this exhibit was temporarily put on hold due to the coronavirus. And while Hart believes visitors won’t notice it, the flow, order of the pieces, and spatial design were completely changed to accommodate social distancing. Still, the expectations for the exhibit remain the same: The art is meant to transport you, and make you realize different things about your everyday life. COVID-19 can’t change that.
“We always hope that there’s a sense of wonder that you get from coming to an art museum,” Hart says. Looking at this exhibition, you get to see real stars and some of the most important work from Mexico in the 20th century. But we also hope that people have moments of personal connection. Built into the exhibit are ideas of independence, identity, unity, and diversity. Those are things that, right now, we’re all thinking about.”
If you go: Tickets can be purchased one week in advance of your visit, or 10 days in advance for Denver Art Museum members. Tickets for adult members start at $20 and $26 for non-members. Youth tickets are $5 for ages 6 to 18, and tickets are free for children ages 5 and under. Face coverings are required for visitors ages three and up; for other COVID-19 guidelines and updates, visit the museum’s website.