Frida Kahlo’s My Nurse and I, 1937. Artists Rights Society (ARS).

- On now through January 20th, the Art Gallery of Ontario’s outstanding Frida & Diego: Passion, Politics and Painting is not to be missed. A sweeping survey of Kahlo and Rivera’s lives together and apart, the AGO exhibition highlights work by both artists, their influence on one another and on post-revolutionary Mexico.

Both Mexican-born, Diego was two decades his wife’s elder. He was academically trained and produced a large and varied oeuvre of work, from monumental fresco murals to oil paintings, watercolours and prints; Frida on the other hand, was self-taught, working at a meticulous pace to create an output estimated, according to the AGO, at fewer than 150 works.

Diego Rivera's Flower Festival: Feast of Santa Anita, 1931. Collection Museum of Modern Art, New York. (C) Banco de México Diego Rivera & Kahlo Museums Trust, Mexico, D. F.  Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

The show charts Rivera’s stylistic trajectory, elucidating his artistic and political influences, and highlighting such masterworks as his 1931 canvas, Flower Festival: Feast of Santa Anita¸ on loan from MoMA’s collection. Kahlo’s turmoil and triumphs are laid bare in her dreamlike, often autobiographical pictures, including My Nurse and I (1937) and Self Portrait With Cropped Hair (1943).

Rivera was undoubtedly the more famous half of the couple during their lifetime, gaining widespread exposure for his outspoken political views, and exhibiting internationally. In the decades since, however, Kahlo’s deeply personal, surreal and emotionally evocative works have gained worldwide acclaim, firmly embedding her among history’s most recognized and beloved artists. Given the culture of the social-media “selfie” that we now live in, her diligent self-portraiture seems uncannily prescient, and more resonant than ever with contemporary audiences.

Frida Kahlo's Self-Portrait with Cropped Hair, 1940. Collection Museum of Modern Art, New York. (C) Banco de México Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo Museums Trust, Mexico, D.F. /Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Unsurprisingly, from a market standpoint, both Frida and Diego have strong records. Given her relatively small oeuvre, works by Kahlo are a rarity at auction; Sotheby’s holds the current record high price, achieved for her 1943 painting, Roots, which sold in New York in 2006 for $5.6 million. In Sotheby’s November 2012 Latin American Art sale, seven of eight works by Rivera offered sold to advantage, earning a total of $816,375 (hammer +BP) against a cumulative pre-sale estimate of $483,000 – 692,000.

Both passionate and painful, Frida and Diego’s lives were the stuff of epic saga, as the AGO show so beautifully articulates. To offer further insight into their careers, Sotheby’s own Latin American Art specialist, Carmen Melián, will be visiting Toronto to deliver a talk on January 16. We look forward to Carmen’s lecture, the title of which perfectly encapsulates the spirit of the exhibition:  Diego and Frida: Larger than Life Legends.