Chicago, IL

A private Frida Kahlo collection is coming to a surprising Illinois spot

Danielle Braff

By Danielle Braff
Frida Kahlo, Self-Portrait with Small MonkeyCollection Museo Dolores Olmedo, Xochimilco, Mexico

(Chicago) Frida Kahlo is heading to the Mcaninch Arts Center at the College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn starting June 5. Never heard of this relatively small arts center 24 miles west of Chicago? You’re not alone. But thanks to this upcoming Frida Kahlo exhibit, Glen Ellyn and the McAninch Arts Center (MAC) may find itself in the center of the art world map.

They’ll be hosting the 26-piece private collection, which is on loan from the Museo Dolores Olmedo thanks to the clever negotiating of a donor. The works span Kahlo’s life, from her early years when she was bedridden following a bus accident at the age of 18, through her infamous self-portrait stage to her final work, which was completed the year after her death. There are also replicas of Kahlo’s childhood bed, her orthotic braces and there are more than 100 photos from her life. 

Kahlo, who lived from 1907-1954, is known internationally for her outspoken voice, her art, her politics and her troubled relationship to Diego Rivera. 

This exhibit was 4 years in the making, and is believed to be the most comprehensive presentation of Kahlo’s work diaplayed in this region in more than 40 years, says Diana Martinez, the executive director of the exhibit and the director of the McAninch Arts Center. 

“It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Martinez says. “We had to literally clear the museum and transform the art center to make this into a museum - it’s like the super bowl of the art world.” 

The exhibit was supposed to open last year, but it was postponed due to the pandemic - which gave them time to rebuild the gallery, to market the collection and to activate the town. Restaurants are themeing the menus to reflect the exhibit and stores are decorating their storefronts. 

Martinez says that while they have 26 pieces in the Frida Kahlo collection, they wanted to take it even further for their exhibit. They hired the Ball Horticultural Company to create a Frida Kahlo-inspired garden; and they asked Wight & Co to design a children’s area featuring a replica of Frida’s Casa Azul in Coyoacan, Mexico. 

The children’s area - which is geared toward kids from pre-k through third grade - will feature traditional Mexican dolls, an art project where kids can try making their own self-portraits. Children will also learn about Kahlo’s home and her pets - in addition to her art. There will be a large Kahlo puppet along with an animated video adaptation on the life of Kahlo so the children can really understand her feelings behind the art. 

So while the art itself is on loan, the historical timeline, the garden and the children’s area is unique to the exhibition. It’s not touring anywhere else, nor is it going anywhere: After the exhibit, the elements will be stored at the McAninch Arts Center, Martinez says. 

“Frida Kahlo and her work were so interconnected that it is impossible to separate one from the other,” says Justin Witte, curator of the exhibit and of the Cleve Carney Museum of Art. “That is also why her presence is still strongly felt in every piece of work in this exhibition,” Witte says.

Masks and social distancing required. 

Frida Kahlo: Timeless will run from June 5-Sept 6. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit or call 630-942-4000. Tickets are $40 for an untimed entry; and $23 for a timed entry. Audio tour headsets are available for $7.

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I'm a lifestyle writer with a focus on trends, fashion, parenting and business. My stories have appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune and more. I live just outside Chicago with my husband, daughter, two cats and a dog. I love to travel to exotic locations and to read memoirs.

Chicago, IL

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