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Diego, Kahlo Art in Dallas Exhibit

By SUSAN PARROTT, Associated Press Writer DALLAS (AP) - A new exhibit at the Dallas Museum of Art spans two love affairs - that of the tumultuous relationship between Mexican masters Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, and that of Jacques and Natasha Gelman, whose passion for collecting art cultivated many careers.

"Modern Masters of Mexico: Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera - The Gelman Collection" continues through January 28 at the DMA, where it fills the museum's main temporary space and two galleries.

Amassed over six decades by the Gelmans, the 140 paintings, sculptures, photographs and works on paper are widely regarded as the world's best private collection of modern Mexican art.

While the couple selected art more to suit their personal tastes than for its historic importance, several well-known pieces are prominently displayed, including Rivera's "Calla Lily Vendor" and Kahlo's "Self-Portrait With Monkeys."

Salomon Grimberg, a Dallas expert on 20th-century Mexican art, says the collection was put together by someone who truly loved art.

"When (Jacques Gelman) bought a painting, he bought it from his heart," Grimberg says.

Jacques Gelman, a Russian-born film distributor, made his fortune in Mexico representing the Mexican comic Cantinflas, who rose to popularity in the United States with his role of the amusing valet Passepartout in Mike Todd's 1956 film, "Around the World in 80 Days."

Gelman married Natasha Zahalka, a Czech immigrant, in 1941, and the couple became patrons and close friends of many artists who later became giants of Mexican modernism.

Painters knew that if the Gelmans approached them, it was a confirmation of their talents, says Robert Littman, director of the Gelman Foundation and former director of the Centro del Arte Contemporaneo in Mexico City.

"Their tastes were well-formed, so they could choose the most interesting artists," he says.

The Gelmans also owned a $300 million collection of modern European art that was bequeathed to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1998.

Some of the most powerful pieces in the Mexican collection are Kahlo's self-portraits, which often reflected her stormy relationship with Rivera and her anguish at not bearing children. Injured in a car accident as a teen-ager, Kahlo turned to painting while bedridden. She met Rivera, who was two decades older, in 1927. They later married, divorced and remarried. They remained together until her death in 1954.

"She allowed him to influence her greatly," Grimberg said of the couple. "In a sense, she was his greatest work of art."

His dominance is clear in "Diego on My Mind," a self-portrait of a young bride with the imprint of her husband on her forehead. Vines that thread across the canvas resemble the pieces of a shattered mirror.

Symbolic of Kahlo's pathos, "Self-portrait With Bed" shows the artist sitting stiffly on a rudimentary bed next to a plaster doll.

The Gelmans bought none of Kahlo's pieces that are overt references to her illness, surgeries or miscarriages. But the collection still provides insight into Kahlo's troubled life, which has generated attention lately as the subject of two upcoming films that will star Jennifer Lopez and Salma Hayek.

Works by Rivera, considered the master of the Mexican muralist movement, include the richly colored "Sunflowers," his cubist painting, "The Last Hour," and a glamorous portrait of Natasha Gelman reclining on a blue sofa, surrounded by Rivera's signature white calla lilies.

While pieces by Rivera and Kahlo dominate the Gelman exhibit in number alone, the couple also collected works by such notables as Rufino Tamayo, David Alfaro Siqueiros, Jose Clemente Orozco and Gunther Gerzso. The works date from 1910 to the 1990s and include abstraction, realism, surrealism and indigenous art styles.

Prominent in the exhibit are five portraits of Natasha Gelman commissioned by her adoring husband.

After he died in 1986, Natasha Gelman continued collecting contemporary works until her death in 1998. The foundation overseeing the collection has made several recent acquisitions. Some are so new they were added after the show premiered in May at San Diego's Museum of Contemporary Art. They include photographs by the late Manuel Alvarez Bravo and Lola Alvarez Bravo, along with avant-garde works by Silvia Gruner, Paula Santiago and Gerardo Suter.

The exhibit also includes a display of black and white photos of the Gelmans' glamorous show business life. An audio tour and all the wall panels, including a large timeline of Mexican history, are in both English and Spanish.

The exhibit's only other appearance will be at the Phoenix Art Museum from April 7 to July 1.

End Adv for Nov 23-26 and Thereafter