Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo were an explosive couple. He carried a pistol. She carried a flask. He romanticised Detroit. She rejected it. But what they shared was a belief in communism, a thirst for tequila and a passion for each other. A new exhibition at the Detroit Institute of Arts explores how they left their mark on the city and how Detroit left its mark on their art. Exclusively on view at the Detroit Institute of Arts, Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo in Detroit brings together nearly 70 works of art that depict the evolution of these two extraordinary artists’ careers, including eight of Rivera’s epic preparatory drawings for the Detroit Industry murals and 23 pieces by Kahlo, whose work has never before been shown at the DIA.
This new blockbuster exhibition has the largest selection of works painted in this period but one is noticeably absent and that is Frida Kahlo’s My Birth (1932). The painting is owned by the overexposed pop singer Madonna, a collector of the work of this well known artist. But it has now come to light that she has refused to loan it to the museum. The painting is just one of five that Kahlo created while in Motor City and the curators were unable to secure the masterpiece for the show. Mark Rosenthal, DIA adjunct curator for contemporary art told the Detroit News. “We tried to get it,” “You have no idea what we went through. But I can’t describe all that.”
DIA attempted for over a year to get the divas approval to include My Birth, in the exhibition, which tells the story of the couple’s brief time spent in Detroit (see Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo Blockbuster at Detroit Institute of Arts Traces a Tragic Romance). In response, they received a curt email from Madonna’s publicist: “We will not be commenting on this.”
In 2005 the painting was included in the Tate’s Kahlo exhibition and perhaps the DIA were overly confident that they would also have access to the painting, as Detroit is Madonnas home town. “To many of us, her lending to the Tate was a bit of a surprise because she hadn’t lent before,” said DIA director Graham Beal. “For a moment there we thought we might have a chance, but it just didn’t work out.” Pam Marcil, the museum’s PR Director, told artnet News: “There’s really not much to say. We tried to get the painting for the exhibition and it just didn’t work out.”
My Birth, depicts a mother whose upper body is covered in a sheet giving birth. “If somebody doesn’t like this painting,” Madonna told Vanity Fair in 1990, “then I know they can’t be my friend.”