Latino Heritage Month at San Francisco MoMA
by Daniel Haim
The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art honors Latino Heritage Month this September by highlighting Latin American works of art and inviting visitors of all ages to discover them in the exhibition Selected Histories: 20th-Century Art from the SFMOMA Collection on the museum’s second floor. Iconic Mexican artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo are represented along with their contemporaries Jose Clemente Orozco and Rufino Tamayo, all of whose paintings tell a story. Other featured works include a geometric abstract by Uruguayan artist Joaquin Torres-Garcia and a surrealist work by Cuban artist Wilfredo Lam. A more contemporary sculpture, a self-portrait made of twigs by Cuban artist Ana Mendieta, is also presented.
Latin American modernism has long been an important area of emphasis within SFMOMA’s collection. Founding trustee Albert Bender was passionate about Mexican artists and was instrumental in bringing Diego Rivera to San Francisco in 1930–31 to paint murals at the San Francisco Art Institute and the Pacific Stock Exchange Luncheon Club (now the City Club). When the museum opened in 1935, Bender purchased Rivera’s newly completed The Flower Carrier (1935) for the collection. The following year he donated the marriage portrait that Frida Kahlo painted of herself and Rivera. These works are joined for the first time at SFMOMA by two other paintings by Rivera and Kahlo that are usually displayed at San Francisco General Hospital. These paintings were donated to the hospital by a physician there, Dr. Leo Eloesser, whom Kahlo met in 1926 and who became her trusted friend and medical advisor.
Actively reinventing herself throughout her career, Kahlo created potent representations of her identity, her native Mexico, and the historical epoch in which she lived. She explored these subjects in a deceptively naive manner, often drawing on folk art traditions. Many of her paintings merge depictions of the cosmos, the earth, and the body with the artist’s immediate reality, permitting shockingly personal depictions of her physical and psychological pain to bleed into the iconography of Mexico’s Aztec, colonial, and revolutionary histories. Meanwhile, Rivera painted allegorical depictions of traditional indigenous culture and the dignity of the working class, as well as utopian visions of the future under socialism. Between 1930 and 1940, he painted murals in San Francisco, New York, and Detroit that focused on industry and social progress through technology.
To top off their visit, museumgoers won’t want to miss the fifth-floor’s Rooftop Blue Bottle Coffee Bar, where they can indulge their sweet tooths with Frida Kahlo Mexican wedding cookies or any of the café’s desserts inspired by works from the museum’s collection.
Visitors may also pick up our free Frida Kahlo Family Guide activity cards in the Koret Visitor Education Center and register to win prizes including a free family membership or a poster of Diego Rivera’s The Flower Carrier. Families can also enjoy the interactive feature Country Dog Gentlemen, where canine characters from Roy De Forest’s playful painting take visitors on adventures to learn about famous artworks in SFMOMA’s collection, including works by Kahlo. And Family Sundays at SFMOMA currently offer museumwide activities from hands-on art-making to docent-led family gallery tours, book readings, and film screenings linked to SFMOMA’s collection and special exhibitions.