Dust off your floral headdresses. Iron your peasant blouses. Pencil in that monobrow. Frida is back – and this time she’s in 360º. From the people that brought you Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience, comes Mexican Geniuses: A Frida & Diego Immersive Experience. They need no surnames. Rebels, renegades, revolutionaries, they are the Bonnie and Clyde of Mexican art.x
The introductory text runs as follows: “Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera were intertwined during 25 years. Although their journey was riddled with separations and reconciliations, never has a couple of artists professed such devotion to each other or stimulated their creativity in such opposite directions. Public art and subjective art found in Diego and Frida their most powerful representation, fused with the history and culture of an entire nation.” All the captions are like this: Spanish translated into Nahuatl and then into English. Try: “Colour impregnated into the Mexican landscape”; “emotional geography”; “cultural syncretism”; “disappeared theogony”; “fostering and projecting a magnetic personality”. Do magnets project?
But you’re here, in London Docklands, for pictures not words. May I be brutal? Gallop through the first two galleries. Aside from an appealing time-lapse recreation of Rivera’s Detroit Industry Murals, from sketch to finished fresco, what you get is mostly reproductions of paintings (I’ve seen freshers’ fair posters with greater print resolution) and a confused rummage-sale of music, videos, tableaux, timelines, Frida bits and Diego bobs. The paintings are all announced as copies, but one roped-off area shows you “Frida’s wheelchair” and “Frida’s corset”. The real ones or replicas? I couldn’t tell you; the show doesn’t. Nor could I find any info about the Rivera time-lapse sequence. It was Googling at home that led me to Detroit.
What justifies the ticket price – £19.90 for adults – is The Gallery, a dark, hanger-like space where a kaleidoscopic collage of Kahlo and Rivera’s works is projected onto the floor and four walls. After copies and repros, this felt truly exciting: a work of art in its own right. Four stars for The Gallery, two stars for everything else.
If you saw the equivalent Van Gogh room – squarely first-generation – then this is another level. It’s somewhere between pinboard, scrapbook and the Waltz of the Flowers. Kahlo and Rivera’s paintings are cut up, animated and set in stop-motion. A cascade of hallucinatory cacti falls from the skies. Rivera’s figures come to life, their joints seemingly hinged with old-fashioned butterfly pins. At times I was reminded of The Magic Roundabout or the animation of Oliver Postgate. You’ll want to linger. Please, organisers, get in more beanbags. The Van Gogh room was carpeted, this one is concrete and it’s cold. Bring a cushion, just in case.
I watched a toddler potter across the patterned floor in raptures. Toddlers aside, who is this for? You might say that it gets a younger crowd into art, but I went to Frida Kahlo: Making Herself Up at the V&A in 2018 and there wasn’t room to swing a chihuahua. Throngs of Gen Z and millennial women looking at Kahlo’s real portraits, costumes, lipsticks and painted plaster corsets. The best exhibitions reach out without gimmicks.
Hold on to your purse. VIP tickets are £36.10 which gets you a poster and a stool in the virtual reality room. Put on a headset to see Ghost Frida and Ghost Diego (and their Ghost Dog) reunited in the afterlife as glowing, floating bubbles. Eminently skippable. The gift shop is exorbitant. Knitted Frida dolls are sweet, but cost £55. A table is piled with copies of the feminist guide to life What Would Frida Do? The answer, I suspect, was not “cash in”.
Until Sept 30; mexicangeniuses.com/london