Explosive exhibition Frida Khalo, Diego Rivera at the Portland Art Museum

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I remember a student came to see me once after a particularly intense class. He held his head and said, “Mrs. Jensen, my head is exploding!

This is how I feel after a long visit to the Portland Museum of ArtThe great traveling exhibition of Frida Khalo, Diego Rivera and Mexican modernism. My eyes are spinning wheels of exploding color, my brain is racing to organize new information about everyone’s favorite artist couple, my heart quivers with intimate images of huge tender Diego with little Frida watching the world with a ferocity rooted in its unfathomable pain.

Sandy Brown Jensen

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KLCC

Visitors to the exhibit enjoy photo ops in front of huge images on the walls of the museum.

If you go, and I urge you to do so, think about what you want to see and plan accordingly as this show spans several galleries, hallways and floors of the museum. If, like me, your main interest is Frida, after entering the exhibit, walk briskly through and down the stairs as she is mostly in the final gallery. Then go back to Diego Rivera, and then the first chamber focuses on their contemporaries. Or if your main interest is the art history and social and cultural content of these two famous painters, start at the beginning. I only mention this because the moment I got to Frida, well, Mrs. Jensen, my brain was exploding!

My favorite exhibit was a raised stage with a dozen models dressed in Frida’s fantastical wardrobe, part of her art form. She had a scarred, broken body that she dressed in elaborate Mexican embroidery, handmade lace, and small amounts. She wore gold and silver jewelry. Like many other women or men, I wondered what it would be like to wear such sumptuousness. Then I wondered what kind of domestic labor she must have to iron those pleats, iron that lace, and maintain such a wardrobe. That thought and that moment helped me place her in a world very different from mine.

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Sandy Brown Jensen

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KLCC

The display of Frida’s iconic wardrobe becomes even more awe-inspiring when you realize she designed, customized and sewed all of her own clothes. These are his originals.

Another unusual exhibit reminded me of Eugene’s mural initiative. One of the walls was a mural in progress – drop cloth, ladders – no pod in sight, again placing Diego Rivera’s remarkable achievement of murals in the time capsule of the early 20th century.

All the iconic self-portraits are there, Frida’s monkey, Diego’s calla lilies. There is so much to see, think and feel. If you feel like your brain is exploding when you leave, you have been warned!

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