In one room, a larger-than-life image of a young pigtailed Frida Kahlo gazes impassively, her earrings dangling to the floor, and her forehead bumping against the ceiling. In another, Kahlo’s eyes and famed thick eyebrows cover nearly an entire wall.
Attendees of the interactive exhibit Frida Kahlo: Life of an Icon will certainly leave feeling they had plenty of face time with the famed artist. Kahlo, of course, is known in part for her self-portraits, but Icon is aimed at presenting her life story, not life’s work.
Mexican music recorded in styles popular during Kahlo’s lifetime plays, and both children and adults are invited to create their own drawings, which will be uploaded on-site for visitors interested in sharing their activities via social media. One room bathes visitors in a tapestry of psychedelic colors; embedded in it are images of monkeys, pineapples, and flowers.
The approach is similar to Beyond Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience, which ran March 2 through May 1, in the same location: the Immersive Pavilion in Albuquerque’s Sawmill District. Icon runs Thursday, Sept. 29, through Oct. 30.
“The music goes in line exactly with the visuals; when you are in one room, you get very emotional because you see [Kahlo’s] pictures and her story accompanied by music, and it’s amazing,” says Andres Naftali, co-founder of Primo Entertainment, which produced both shows.
The van Gogh exhibit’s success — more than 5 million people have seen it since 2017, Primo says — paved the way for Icon. He adds that the appetite for exhibits that engage multiple senses has grown. “People more and more are looking for experiences where they can feel all their senses” being engaged, Naftali says.
Primo is looking to feature “iconic artists that were very important in not only the art world but also in pop culture.” Kahlo is “more known for what she did in her life and everything she accomplished as a woman than for her artworks,” he says. “So that’s why the decision was made [to] show her life” rather than art.
The exhibit also is appearing in San Diego, Miami, New York City, Phoenix, Montreal, Puerto Rico, Salvador, and Portland, Oregon. Primo Entertainment aims to bring the exhibit to Latin America next. Its worldwide run, Naftali says, will likely last about two years.
Exhibit visitors will experience Kahlo’s life in a linear fashion, Naftali says, via audio recordings, both static and moving images, and wall text. The story starts with Kahlo’s childhood in Mexico, tracing her path to Paris and New York.
Kahlo’s descendants have approved everything in the exhibit, Naftali says. Asked how Kahlo, who died in 1954, might react to the exhibit that honors her life, he says she’d probably try to get involved in organizing it herself.
While Naftali can’t speculate on technological advances to come, he’s confident that the immersive shows wouldn’t have been possible just a decade ago.
“We’re lucky that we’re living in this time,” he says. “Now, [visitors] feel important. That’s why it’s been so successful, because museums are for art lovers or maybe tourists, while the [immersive exhibits are] for everyone.”