Indra K. Lacis Curatorial Research Assistant
Fulang-Chang and I 1937 (assembled with painted frame and mirror after 1939). Frida Kahlo (Mexican, 1907–1954). Oil on composition board with painted frame; 56.5 x 44.1 cm. Museum of Modern Art, New York, Mary Sklar Bequest, 277.1987.a. © 2016 Banco de México Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums Trust, Mexico, D. F. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
This summer, museum visitors can commune with the Mexican painter Frida Kahlo when her enigmatic 1937 self-portrait Fulang-Chang and I is displayed side by side with a mirror in a matching hand-painted frame that she intended would always be hung alongside the painting. Renowned for her intricate self-portraits, in this one Kahlo assumed her typical pose by turning her face roughly three-quarters to reveal one of her ears, cropping the composition like a square passport-style photograph. Surrounded by lush, sage-colored jungle foliage, Kahlo’s pet spider monkey nuzzles closely near her chest, his glassy black eyes appearing to mimic the artist’s intense, searching gaze. Kahlo repeatedly incorporated simians in her self-portraits to reference surrogate family members (she was never able to bear children), as well as the concept of the “animal self.” On loan from the Museum of Modern Art in New York, this painting was one of the featured works in Kahlo’s first solo exhibition in the United States, held at the Julien Levy Gallery in New York City in 1938. The following year Kahlo presented Fulang-Chang and I as a gift to her close friend Mary Sklar, partly in gratitude for Sklar’s purchase of another painting from the Levy show. Kahlo expanded the painting by adding the painted frame with a mirror, so that through Sklar’s reflection the two friends would remain together forever.
When visitors view Kahlo’s painting and framed mirror at the museum this summer, they too will see themselves reflected next to Frida. The effect is both playful and haunting, hinting perhaps that Kahlo’s self-portraits functioned like mirrors for the artist herself. For even though the Surrealists, especially the group’s founder André Breton, claimed her as one of their one, Kahlo continued to maintain throughout her career that she did not paint her dreams, but rather the richness of her own ever-changing, multifaceted reality.
June 21–September 25
Cleveland Art, July/August 2016