Mexican painter Frida Kahlo’s art and turbulent life will be the subject of new exhibit ‘Frida: Immersive Dream’

The artist who is arguably the world’s most famous female painter is getting the immersive treatment in Toronto.

“Frida: Immersive Dream” will highlight the life and work of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo in an exhibit opening next March.

Svetlana Dvoretsky, co-founder of producer Lighthouse Immersive, said in an interview that the Kahlo show is part of a trilogy envisioned by Italian digital artist Massimiliano Siccardi when he started working with the company two years ago on its “Immersive Van Gogh” exhibit.

Dutch painter van Gogh is the first part; Austrian artist Gustav Klimt, subject of “Immersive Klimt: Revolution,” the second and now, Kahlo the third.

“Each artist represents a revolution,” Dvoretsky said.

Van Gogh pioneered the technique of “impasto,” creating texture by laying on paint in thick layers, in his work while Klimt was part of an avant-garde cultural movement in Vienna.

As for Kahlo, she was a revolutionary as well as revolutionary artist, Dvoretsky said.

“She was intrigued by the communist party, by the (Mexican) revolution, by what Lenin and Marx were espousing at the time; she was marching in parades with people who wanted to change the regime and so on and so forth.

“To me, she’s an extraordinary woman.”

She’s also a popular one as far as famous artists go.

Just this month, a self-portrait of Kahlo, “Diego y yo” or “Diego and I,” which shows the artist with an image of husband Diego Rivera on her forehead, sold for $34.9 million (U.S.) in a Sotheby’s sale, the most expensive work by a Latin American artist sold at auction.

Kahlo — renowned for her bold, surrealist paintings as well as her colourful personal style, including her unibrow — got the Hollywood treatment in 2002 when Salma Hayek starred as her in “Frida,” which won Oscars for Best Makeup and Best Original Score.

Kahlo and fellow artist Rivera were the subjects of a 2012 exhibit at the Art Gallery of Ontario that was subtitled “Passion, Politics and Painting,” and focused not only on the couple’s art but on their roller-coaster relationship and their political activism.

Though Rivera was the more famous artist during their lifetimes, Kahlo has become revered not only as a painter but as a feminist icon. And as with van Gogh, part of the fascination has to do with the troubles she endured when she was alive.

In a 2012 story about the AGO show, the Star’s reviewer said that Kahlo’s personal genius was to transform “great personal pain — an accident at 18 which led to lifelong surgeries; a miscarriage and confirmation of infertility at 25; a marriage to Diego marked by repeated, mutual adultery — into a strength that’s both disturbing and healing.”

That accident, a bus-streetcar crash in 1925, left Kahlo with serious injuries that caused lifelong problems but also marked the beginning of her art, as she began producing self-portraits while she recovered. She also had part of her right leg amputated later in life due to gangrene and when she died of a pulmonary embolism in 1954 — just a week after her 47th birthday — there was speculation about a drug overdose, either accidental or intentional.

“She was absolutely full of life, but her life was a very serious mix of pain and love,” Dvoretsky said. “And what she did as an artist, she was very open and honest about everything. She was not politically correct. She was out there.”

Dvoretsky figures that part of Kahlo’s current fame has to do with rising interest in extraordinary women generally.

“How difficult that would have been for her to be next to Diego, someone who was so extraordinarily famous … and she just started to paint,” Dvoretsky said.

“It took so much courage to say, ‘Yes, I’m an artist; yes, I’m talented; yes, I’m worthy; yes, I can do it’ … I think it’s extremely inspirational.”

Some of Kahlo’s most famous paintings will be included in “Immersive Dream,” such as “The Two Fridas,” “The Wounded Deer” and “Diego and I,” along with photographs, drawings and excerpts of documentaries about her.

As with “Immersive Van Gogh,” the Kahlo show will featured animated projections by Siccardi and a musical score by Luca Longobardi, although Lighthouse Immersive co-founder Corey Ross said Kahlo’s works will be presented “in a format very distinct from that which (Siccardi) utilized in examining Van Gogh and Klimt’s.”

Lighthouse Immersive is a pioneer of this style of entertainment in Toronto, having opened “Immersive Van Gogh” in July 2020 in what used to be the Toronto Star’s printing plant at 1 Yonge St. That show, which has sold more than four million tickets here, has since expanded to 19 American cities.

The company’s five-storey Toronto space is now home to four exhibits, including “Immersive Klimt: Revolution,” “Immersive Nutcracker: A Winter Miracle” and dance show “Touch,” choreographed by Guillaume Côté.

“Frida: Immersive Dream” opens March 31 at the Lighthouse Immersive gallery at 1 Yonge St. Tickets go on sale Nov. 30 at 10 a.m. at immersive-frida.com

Debra Yeo is a deputy editor and a contributor to the Star’s Entertainment section. She is based in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter: @realityeo

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