Reopens The de YOUNG Museum in San Francisco

Frida Kahlo with Olmec figurine (1939)         Nicholas Murray Photo Archive

By Iride Aparicio

Photos By: Gary Sexton/ The de Young Museum

SAN FRANCISCO, CA -- To describe the persona of FRIDA KAHLO, considered in the 20th Century art world as one of the most important and innovative Mexican painters, is not an easy task. Similarly to a 40 karat diamond, KAHLO had a multiplicity of facets in her personality, so those who want to understand her art, need to learn something about her life.

A better understanding of KAHLO's art will be possible to the visitors of "FRIDA KAHLO; Appearances May Be Deceiving, " the exhibition  at The  de Young Museum in San Francisco, that just reopened to the public after being closed by the pandemic for several months, because during the organization of the KAHLO's exhibition,  curator  CIRCE HENESTROSA,  Associate Curator HILARY OLCOTT  and curator  GANNIT ANKORI , who had been involved as content advisor and curatorial advisor in the New YorkLondon  and San Francisco's  KAHLO's previous exhibitions, were so judicious in the selection  of the artifacts displayed in   "Appearances May be Deceiving" that just by looking at them we learn something about KAHLO as a woman, as a wife, as an artist, and as person who spend many years of her life ravaged by pain, needing a corset to sustain her  upper body to be able to stand up, and a prosthesis in her right leg to be able to walk.

For the visitors, to visit the exhibition will be safe. The tickets' sales per day are rationed, to make sure that only a limited number of visitors can enter the exhibition at an stipulated time and on the day marked on their tickets. The process avoids overcrowding inside. And because all the galleries containing the exhibition are large-scale, the stipulated number of people inside the galleries will be able to keep their distance from each other when looking at the exhibits.


All the artifacts displayed in the exhibition, which include: KAHLO's paintings, sketches, photographs, dresses, jewelry, and personal belongings are visual, but those visitors interested in learning more about them, have the option to rent the "Audio tour of the exhibition " which includes a recorded introduction of the exhibition by TOM CAMPBELL, the Director of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, and the curators (voices) providing the information.

And because to understand KAHLO's art, it is helpful to learn something about her life, we will start with some facts:


FRIDA KAHLO was born Magdalena Carmen Frida Kahlo Calderón, in the "Casa Azul" (Now her museum in México) on July 6, 1907, in Coyoacan, Mexico. Her father, who had emigrated to Mexico in l890 and  adopted the Hispanic name Guillermo, was a Jewish  photographer of  Hungarian-German descend who at the young age of  19, had married  Maria Cardeña  and fathered two daughters with her. Maria died, during child's birth and shortly after her death, he had married Matilde Calderón, FRIDA's mother.

The family was cultural and gave their daughter FRIDA an excellent education. As a girl, she spoke German, English and Spanish and was regarded as very intelligent by her teachers although the girl was sickly because at the age of six,she had contracted Polio and it had left her with a shortened and thinner right leg and with her right foot twisted outwards.

Unable to run and play or participate in any sports, FRIDA spent her free time at home helping her father with his photographic work. She also assisted him in his laboratory by retouching photographs, and where she may have learned the principles of portraiture and pictures' composition that she later used in her painting.

KAHLO took her first formal lessons in art as a co-ed High school student of La Escuela Nacional Preparatoria in Mexico, where art, literature and politics were the discussed among the students. Sadly, her studies ended on On September 17, 1925 when she was 18, and was among the riders on a local bus that crashed with a Streetcar and was destroyed. A metal banister impaled FRIDA through her hip fracturing her pelvic bone and exiting through her vagina. The collision also fractured her Column in three places and dislocated her right shoulder. Her right leg alone, suffered eleven fractures. She also dislocated her right foot.

DECORATED corsets.jpg
Her hand painted decorated Corsets

Ravaged by pain, FRIDA KAHLO was left and invalid. But as she lay for months flat on her back unable to move, ART may have impelled to create something. FRIDA asked her father for brushes and some paints, and with the help of a wood board sustained on top of the four posts of her wood bed with a large mirror attached to it, she started decorating with figures and symbols the white cloth that covered her metal corsets, checking their position and shapes by looking up at the mirror attached to the board over her head.

But being an invalid for the rest of her life was not what FRIDA KAHLO wanted, so, with determination, corsets and therapy she trained herself to walk and continue painting, but on the canvas of her her mind she painted her portrait as a New FRIDA KAHLO and started creating her Image ((A set of characteristics that she wanted to be recognized with).


Tehuana elaborated resplandor and to the left, a long tehuana enagua ( skirt)

The creation of her Image, may have started with a Tehuana's dress that a friend had given her as a gift. During the time FRIDA was growing up, the Tehuanas as the women from the isthmus of Tehuantepec in Oaxaca, Mexico are called, were depicted in magazines and newspapers as Mystic, enigmatic, alluring and mysterious, because of it, men viewed them as highly desirable and were fascinated by them because their soft flowing feminine attire gave the young romantic Mexican men the idea of The South maidens. FRIDA may have also liked the facts that the Thehuanas are matriarchal, and that the name of their state, Tehuantepec, in Nahuatle, means "Wild Animal." The name alone, able to conjure strength to her weakened body.

After trying on the dress, FRIDA may have discovered that the Tehuana's dress, served her purpose, perfectly.  Its material was light in weight, and soft, which was ideal por a person like her, wearing a heavy corset. Its ornament huipil (blouse) usually embroidered in many colors, attracted attention to her torso, (she did not want to attract attention to her legs) and ended at the waist, which she needed because she wore corset. The other form of wearing the huipil, which was the resplandor looked even more impressive, because the starched lace framed her face,and attracted attention to it, and FRIDA loved her face, which she painted many times, even emphasizing her thick black eyebrows that met over her nose. She may have even thought that If she wore the huipil as a blouse, she still could attract attention to her face, by braiding her long black hair with colorful ribbons, wrapping her braids around her head like a crown, and decorating her hair with flowers. But perhaps, what served her purpose better, was the Tehuanas' s long enaguas (skirts). that could cover her legs completely even disguise her limping by their swinging over her feet.

Dresses II.jpg

So, with imagination, jewelry and Tehuana's dresses, the alluring, romantic and beautiful FRIDA KAHLO was created .

(Appearances May be Deceiving)

Her created Image of perfection, deceived people for years. We see her perfect in all her sitting down photographs in the exhibition, where FRIDA looks as regal as a queen, with her back perfectly straight. All admired the woman who paraded her Mexicanidad (being from Mexico) around the world, with pride. And her Image was so magnetic that attracted the rich and the poor men and women, everybody who met her, admired FRIDA KAHLO. She even managed to win the heart of DIEGO RIVERA, considered at the time, the most famous muralist from Mexico who married her twice (after they had divorced the first time).

Yet, as the Image of FRIDA KAHLO, concealed her imperfections behind her jewelry and her Tehuana's dresses, the real FRIDA KAHLO. in her paintings and drawings, shouted her pain for the world to see. We can "hear" the shouts, if we observe them carefully.

And there are many opportunities to do so, because as a historian, KAHLO documented in her paintings, every  experience in her life, but she painted them in different forms. We notice that in her painting related to happy events in her life: the portraits of her family, her wedding with RIVERA, the figures are normal. In her self portraits, which are many, her figure is normal in size but if we observe her big brown eyes, in some of her self portraits carefully, even in her self portrait as a Tehuan (l945) we can see sadness. FRIDA is never smiling.

And there is lots of symbolism in all the painting depicting the sad experiences in her life: her accident with the street car in Mexico, and the one representing the room where the doctors had to abort her unborn baby, the human figures are distorted, showing a mind, where the memories are much too painful and maybe even had a death wish, because if we try to interpret Suicide of Dorothy Hale, an oil on hardboard painting (pictured below) that she painted in 1939 when DIEGO was painting a Mural at the Empire Stage Building in New York City and she was in Detroit, shortly after her abortion, you may discover it in this painting.


The Suicide of Dorothy Hale (l939)

The oil on hardboard picture was based on a story that FRIDA had read in a newspaper, about a woman by the name of Dorothy Hale,  who had jumped to her death  from a window of the Empire State Building in New York City. But when FRIDA re-created the story in her painting, on the ground, she substituted the dead woman's body, with a self portrait. You can see it at the exhibition along with many other personal artifacts, of the artist, that will give visitors the opportunity to discover many other Facets of FRIDA KAHLO's life. She died in Coyoacan, Mexico on July 13, 954,

Las Apariencias engañan, is an old Spanish proverb ( a short frequent saying, of widespread use, that expresses a basic truth) that was found written in FRIDA's own handwriting, at the bottom of a small ink portrait of herself that she had painted, in which she is wearing a transparent Tihuana dress that allows us to see her naked broken body underneath. It was hidden at The Casa Azul (The Blue House) her museum in Coyoacan, Mexico, for many years, but that now you can see it at the exhibition named Appearances May Be Deceiving" because of it.

The exhibition will run until February 7, 2021. The de Young museum is open Tuesday-Sunday from 9:30 AM to 5:15 PM. Visitors are advised to reserve their tickets to the exhibition online at More information can be found at