UMFA hosts photo exhibit’s U.S. premier: Nickolas Muray’s photos of Frida Kahlo on display

A new exhibit coming to the Utah Museum of Fine Arts tells the story of a strange love affair between two well-known, early twentieth-century artists.

The exhibit, titled “Her spirit is stranger than the angels: Frida Kahlo through the lens of Nickolas Muray,” opens Saturday, Oct. 8 and will feature 24 photographs of the popular surreal artist Frida Kahlo, taken by her lover and prominent photographer Nickolas Muray.

Frida was best known for her striking symbolic self-portraits and Muray for his photographs of prominent figures, including Marilyn Monroe and Dwight D. Eisenhower.

The photos in the exhibit were taken throughout the couple’s shaky 10-year love affair. During this period, Kahlo was married to the famous Mexican mural painter Diego Rivera.

Kahlo and Rivera had a bitter marriage in which both were unfaithful. Kahlo was well known for her many affairs with both men and women.

The photographs depict Kahlo in a fashion similar to her own self-portraits. She is shown in her iconic traditional Mexican dress with loved ones and objects reflecting her Mexican heritage.

Muray had never publicly displayed the pictures, and they were completely unknown until 1993, when Muray’s daughter, Utah resident Mimi Muray Levitt, found the negatives while going through a trunk full of her father’s work. She decided to have the negatives developed and was shocked at what she saw.

Levitt had been aware that her father had an affair with Kahlo prior to meting her mother. She even remembers reading love letters Kahlo had sent him and meeting Kahlo as a child. Kahlo and Muray remained friends until her death in 1954, but Levitt said she was unaware of the significance of the affair.

“When you look at those photographs, you see a special relationship between Frida and my father,” Levitt said.

The photographs were first shown at several museums throughout Europe before Levitt decided to have them shown in Utah.

The idea for the exhibit came when the Sharing Place, a local nonprofit group that provides grief support for youth and families that have lost loved ones, was planning its fall fund-raiser. The fund-raiser’s theme was a celebration of the Day of the Dead, which made Sharon Spaulding, an event organizer, think of Muray’s photographs of Kahlo that Levitt had.

Officials from the Sharing Place and the UMFA then approached Levitt about exhibiting her photographs at the museum. Levitt said she felt the exhibit would be great for both the Sharing Place and the museum and was glad to lend the photographs to the museum.

Levitt said the connection between her father’s work, Frida Kahlo and the Day of the Dead fund-raiser was a “magical combination.”

The museum will be hosting the Day of the Dead fund-raiser for the Sharing Place on Oct. 8 to coincide with the exhibit.

Cody Dingus, communications and design specialist for the museum, said the exhibit is exciting and unique because it’s the first time the photographs have ever been on display in the United States.

Several love letters written between Kahlo and Muray and various art pieces from Mexico will be shown with the photographs.

Kahlo’s Mexican heritage was very important to her, Dingus said.

Levitt said her father is under-recognized for his work as a photographer and believes the exhibit will help to improve her father’s name in the art community.

“I think it will help bring my father’s name back to the public eye,” she said.

The exhibit will run until May 2006. Levitt said she then hopes to take the exhibit to other U.S. museums.

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