MEXICO CITY (Reuters Life!) - Mexican painter Diego Rivera, whose giant murals of class struggle put Latin American art on the international stage, is claiming back the spotlight after long being eclipsed by his wife Frida Kahlo.
The burly, bug-eyed Rivera was a militant communist and his murals helped forge a sense of national identity after the turmoil of the Mexican Revolution.
He is again being venerated as Mexico marks the 50th anniversary of his death with an exhibit of 170 paintings, portraits and sketches spanning his career.
Over the past decade, museums around the world, writers and Hollywood were seduced by Kahlo’s paintings and tragic life and her image became a global commodity, printed on cigarette lighters to clothing, while Rivera appeared forgotten.
“I thought that with all this Fridamania, by the time the anniversary of my father’s death arrived, he was not going to get the recognition that was given to Frida’s exhibition,” said Guadalupe Rivera, his 82-year-old daughter from his first marriage.
But over 200,000 people have visited the Bellas Artes museum in downtown Mexico City since the Rivera exhibit opened two months ago.
“We need to get acquainted again with one of our great artists,” said Roxana Velasquez, the head of the museum.
Earlier this year, Mexico City staged a massive Kahlo retrospective that attracted crowds of visitors, many of whom had to line outside the museum for hours to get in.
In a country where women in the early 20th century were forced to conform, marry and have children, Kahlo became a rebellious figure with her political activism, a love of colorful indigenous clothing and her sexual freedom.
Mexican art critics say that while Kahlo’s very personal art is bold and moving, Rivera’s work deserves to be held in higher regard because it was so innovative, fusing 20th century European Cubist, pre-Columbian and 15th century Italian fresco painting, mapping out Mexican history on a massive scale.
“Diego Rivera is a visual historiographer, he depicted us as a nation,” said Rivera expert Susana Pliego.
Rivera’s daughter Guadalupe says there was no comparison between her father and Kahlo.
“Frida did not produce more than 50 paintings, some of them really bad,” she said. “The real artist was Diego Rivera. Frida was just the wizard’s apprentice.”
Two other museums in the Mexican capital are displaying more of Rivera’s work, including rare religious drawings from the early years of his career. Another exhibition at the Dolores Olmedo museum, founded by a close friend and model of Rivera, is showing some of his lesser-known portraits.
Exhibition organizers hope the shows will motivate people to visit many of Rivera’s great murals across Mexico City in government buildings and in the nearby town of Cuernavaca.
Writing by Cyntia Barrera Diaz; editing by Patricia Reaney