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By Peter Kilfoyle
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This way to the gift shop: Baroness Chakrabarti reviews 'Mexican Geniuses'

This way to the gift shop: Baroness Chakrabarti reviews 'Mexican Geniuses'

Mexican Geniuses: Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera Immersive Experience | Fever

3 min read

Anodyne and commercialised, this virtual exhibition of the work of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, does little justice to the complexity of the art or politics

When visiting the Frida Kahlo Blue House Museum in Mexico City years ago, a friend looked for the gift shop, to be informed that this decadent concept would be inappropriate. No such disappointment awaits those who go to Canada Water for the Mexican Geniuses “immersive experience” in a poorly signposted warehouse next to the Decathlon superstore. It’s almost as if the Forbes-listed proprietors want actively to deter walk-ins from the local Bermondsey community. They needn’t try so hard given the exorbitant surge pricing (culture but Uber-style). “Peak VIP” access on a Sunday afternoon costs £45. UK museums and galleries hold so many world treasures. This may be the most expensive experience of them all. It includes a free poster and extra virtual reality visit with Kahlo and her terrible husband and fellow great artist Diego Rivera; “beyond the grave” but just before the gift shop.

Another bouncer hovered when I looked for the loo. I guess holograms don’t dream of electric pees

The first bouncer seemed bemused that I hadn’t arrived with an access code on my smart phone. He eventually pointed me to a pop-up ticket office marked “cloak room”. Bless the friendly but gobsmacked young woman who couldn’t believe her own prices. Another bouncer hovered when I looked for the loo. I guess holograms don’t dream of electric pees.

Then for immersion. The first room is dedicated to Rivera – desde luego. It’s a pretty conventional virtual exhibit of digital impressions of his work under-written with anodyne descriptions that do little justice to the complexity of the art, politics, or life. Then we find his long-suffering wife’s magical realist depictions of pain, sex, gender and solitude. Her paintings are as fresh as if imagined yesterday. His famous murals and other pieces seem more of their time. As this is an immersion, not an exhibition, in the place of original art or artefacts we see a replica wireless, corset, chairs and projections of the paintings.

The main event is a very large room with many bean bags, so that those supple enough to sink so low and rise again might chill and watch a sort of frenetic and repetitive animated biopic. A man and a woman gently tease each other in Speedy Gonzales English. The very loud music is sub-Broadway. Think Frozen Frida or Wicked Diego. Then to the VIP room, arranged like a bar with high stools. I put on a rubber headset after grave warnings not to move it, lest it re-set and begin again. Blue and pink bubbles represented the souls of the artist lovers as we joined them in the afterlife, greeted by an animated representation of their death-masked baby girl who was never to be. 

I left the experience with a headache and eagerness for a proper celebration of Frida. So I went home to look for Salma Hayek’s 2002 film. I could only find it on Amazon Prime for £3.50. In these difficult times, Kahlo’s inspiring life and work should be within easier reach.

Baroness Chakrabarti is a Labour peer

Mexican Geniuses: Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera Immersive Experience
Location: Canada Water, London Docklands
Dates: Running until 31 July

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