• Katlyn Smith

    Katlyn Smith

  • Guests wander through the Frida Kahlo exhibition at the McAninch Arts Center at College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn.

      Guests wander through the Frida Kahlo exhibition at the McAninch Arts Center at College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer, August 2021

  • Guests wander through the Frida Kahlo exhibition at the McAninch Arts Center at College of DuPage Friday in Glen Ellyn.

      Guests wander through the Frida Kahlo exhibition at the McAninch Arts Center at College of DuPage Friday in Glen Ellyn. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer, August 2021

 
 
Updated 10/1/2021 6:05 PM

In bold letters, the headline cheered: "A RARE OPPORTUNITY."

The Daily Herald carried the big news on Nov. 11, 2018. A world-famous collection of Frida Kahlo's art was coming to, of all places, a community college in the heart of suburbia.

 

That was the first of dozens of stories and editorials the newspaper published about the mega Kahlo show at the College of DuPage.

I've led most of the coverage, and while I'm by no means an art historian, and I've spent much of the last two years alternating between pandemic and government reporting, I understood the significance of the event, the likes of which many of us might never see again in our own back yard.

"Frida Kahlo is a blockbuster," Adriana Jaramillo told me back in May.

Jaramillo's job is that of a steward of Kahlo's art. Jaramillo travels with the collection from the Museo Dolores Olmedo in Mexico to international exhibitions around the globe, coordinating all the logistics in between.

Suffice to say, Jaramillo had never heard of the College of DuPage before. The Glen Ellyn school landed the exhibition through the friendship of the late Alan Peterson, a college benefactor, and Carlos Phillips. His mother, Dolores Olmedo, an avid art collector, purchased the Kahlo works at the insistence of her friend and Kahlo's husband, muralist Diego Rivera.

Not to be outdone by a major museum, the college staged a retrospective covering Kahlo's artistic output, her status as a feminist, queer icon, her fashion, nonconformity and Mexican nationalism.

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I got my first look at "Frida Kahlo: Timeless" during a media preview before the opening in June.

My plan was to put the exhibition in its proper context, not just to write an arts and culture story and move on. Put another way, that's the essence of our job as reporters: Learn as much as you can and as quickly as you can about the subjects of your stories.

In May, I had already written a front-page overview of the exhibition after talking to curator Justin Witte and Diana Martinez, the director of the college's McAninch Arts Center.

I watched virtual lectures -- a pandemic-era programming change -- by Kahlo scholars and college faculty. Cesáreo Moreno, chief curator at the National Museum of Mexican Art in Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood, explained how the traditions of postmortem portraiture influenced one of Kahlo's most moving paintings, "The Deceased Dimas Rosas."

I also gravitated toward a display of Kahlo's elaborate clothing, impeccably re-created in lime-green and hot-pink fabrics. I had to find out who made them -- Kimberly Morris, the school's theater costume designer -- and how.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"She was a very vibrant person in her own right, so I think the clothes helped the world to see that before they knew her personality," Morris said. "She's fabulous and just irreverent."

All told, the exhibition drew more than 100,000 visitors before it concluded last month. I ended up writing stories about the must-see Kahlo pieces, her style of dress, the economic impact of the exhibition and local artists who took on their own Kahlo-centric projects.

Where does the Olmedo collection go from here? To see the same artwork, you'd have to travel to the Drents Museum in the Netherlands for the "Viva la Frida!" exhibition opening this week.

A rare opportunity indeed.

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