Tuesday, August 26, 2008


Sorry about the lack of posts yesterday. My hotel's WiFi network was down.

Yesterday morning, I went to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art morning to check out the Frida Kahlo and Lee Miller exhibits. Photography isn't permitted in these exhibits, so I'm not posting photos here.

The Kahlo exhibit was revelatory. Kahlo has become extremely trendy, as evidenced by the Frida-themed aprons, etc., on sale in the SFMoMA gift shop and the teeming mass of people who wanted to see this exhibit. I haven't embraced the trend, which seems more rooted more in her biography (tortured relationship with her artist husband, affairs with men and women, leftist politics, disregard for conventional notions of femininity)--than in her art. The art, however, is much more complex and satisfying. I hadn't recognized how inventively she used and reworked Mexican folk idioms or how those stern self-portraits are sometimes slyly witty as well.

I also hadn't appreciated how groundbreaking some of her art was. Henry Ford Hospital (1932) may well be the first painting in the Western tradition that visually documents the grief, isolation, and pain that accompanies a miscarriage, and it is wrenching.

The Miller exhibit, which drew me to SFMoMA in the first place, was also first-rate. Miller started out as a fashion model, apprenticed under Man Ray, and began creating her own surrealist-influenced photographs. She became a very successful commercial photographer in New York, but relocated to London when she married her second husband. During the Second World War she worked for British Vogue and became one of the few female photographers to be credentialed as a war correspondent. Her photographs of London and Paris under bombardment, Dachau immediately after liberation, and Allied troops' entry into Hitler's headquarters appeared in Vogue . . . along with her updates on fashion trends in newly free Paris.

After the war, Miller gradually retreated from professional photography and devoted herself to running her husband's estate, gourmet cooking, and, sadly, alcohol. Her son, who was born after the war, discovered that his mother had been a noteworthy photographer when he was sorting through her effects after her death. He is now the head of the Lee Miller Archive, which cares for her photographs and manuscript materials.

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