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 who brought you Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience comes Mexican Geniuses: An Immersive Experience from Frida & Diego† They don’t need last names. Rebels, renegades, revolutionaries, they are the Bonnie and Clyde of Mexican art.x
The introductory text reads: “Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera were intertwined for 25 years. Though their journey has been littered with breakups and reconciliations, never before has a few artists professed such devotion to each other or stimulated their creativity in such opposite directions. Public art and subjective art found their most powerful representation in Diego and Frida, fused with the history and culture of an entire nation.” All captions are as follows: Spanish translated into Nahuatl and then into English. Try: “Color Impregnated in the Mexican Landscape”; “emotional geography”; “cultural syncretism”; “vanished theogony”; “promoting and projecting a magnetic personality”. Do magnets project?
But you’re here, in London Docklands, for pictures, not words. Can I be cheeky? Gallop through the first two galleries. Aside from an attractive time-lapse reproduction of Rivera’s Detroit Industry Murals, from sketch to finished fresco, you mainly get reproductions of paintings (I’ve seen honest posters of freshmen with higher print resolution) and a tangled flea market of music, videos, tableaux , timelines, Frida bits and Diego bobs. The paintings are all advertised as copies, but in a demarcated area you can see “Frida’s wheelchair” and “Frida’s corset”. The real ones or replicas? I couldn’t tell you; the show doesn’t. I also couldn’t find any information about the Rivera time-lapse sequence. Googling at home led me to Detroit.
Justifying the ticket price – £19.90 for adults – is The Gallery, a dark, pendant-like space where a kaleidoscopic collage of the works of Kahlo and Rivera is projected onto the floor and four walls. After copies and repros, this felt really exciting: a work of art in itself. Four stars for The Gallery, two stars for everything else.
If you saw the equivalent Van Gogh room – first generation square – then this is another level. It’s somewhere between corkboard, scrapbook and the Waltz of the Flowers. Kahlo and Rivera’s paintings have been cut, animated and put into stop-motion. A waterfall of hallucinatory cacti falls from the sky. Rivera’s figures come to life, their joints seem to hinge with old-fashioned butterfly pins. Sometimes I thought of The Magic Roundabout or the Oliver Postgate animation. You want to stick around. Please, organizers, pack more beanbags. The Van Gogh room was carpeted, it is concrete and it is cold. Bring a pillow, just in case.
I watched a toddler frolicking on the patterned floor in rapture. Toddlers aside, who is this for? You could say that a younger audience is getting into the arts, but I went to Frida Kahlo: Making Herself Up at the V&A in 2018 and there was no room to wave a Chihuahua. Crowds of Gen Z and millennial women look at Kahlo’s real-life portraits, costumes, lipsticks and painted plaster corsets. The best exhibits reach without gimmicks.
Hold your wallet. 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. Ideally to be skipped. The gift shop is exorbitant. Knitted Frida dolls are sweet, but cost £55. A table is full of copies of the feminist life guide What Would Frida Do? The answer, I suspect, was not “cash in”.
Until Sept. 30; mexicangeniuses.com/london