Editorial: COD's Frida Kahlo exhibition was a bold dream that lived up to the hype

  • The "Frida Kahlo: Timeless" exhibition at the College of DuPage drew more than 100,000 visitors to the school's Glen Ellyn campus.

    The "Frida Kahlo: Timeless" exhibition at the College of DuPage drew more than 100,000 visitors to the school's Glen Ellyn campus. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

 
The Daily Herald Editorial Board
Posted9/14/2021 1:00 AM

In November 2018, the College of DuPage made an announcement that was as bold as it was surprising.

The community college would host an exhibition of 26 original pieces spanning the career of the famed Mexican artist Frida Kahlo. It would be the largest selection of Kahlo works displayed in the Chicago area since 1978.

 

"Frida Kahlo: Timeless" completed its successful three-month run on Sunday at the Cleve Carney Museum of Art at COD's Glen Ellyn campus. It drew more than 100,000 visitors to DuPage County.

But that success hadn't been guaranteed in the beginning. COD officials overcame a list of challenges to organize the blockbuster exhibition.

First, the college was able to get the drawings and paintings on loan from the Museo Dolores Olmedo in Mexico with the help of the late Alan Peterson, an entrepreneur and philanthropist. Peterson, who died in 2020, was friends with Carlos Phillips, the son of the museum's namesake, Dolores Olmedo.

Curator Justin Witte and Diana Martinez, the director of COD's McAninch Arts Center, then assured the Olmedo museum the exhibit "would be presented in a way that was worthy of Frida Kahlo."

COD also demonstrated its commitment to hosting a high-value exhibition by expanding the school's art gallery. A $3 million project brought lighting, security, and climate-control upgrades to the gallery, which was renamed the Cleve Carney Museum of Art.

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The Kahlo exhibition was supposed to happen last summer. But the opening date was pushed back a year due to the pandemic.

When the show finally opened in June, local business owners embraced Fridamania. Restaurants and shops in Glen Ellyn and Wheaton started offering special menu items and souvenirs to the influx of Kahlo fans.

The exhibition has since attracted patrons from 50 U.S. states and 43 countries, Daily Herald reporter Katlyn Smith wrote this month. It also infused millions of dollars into the economy, including money spent on dining, overnight lodging, transportation and Kahlo-themed merchandise.

COD had never before landed an international art show. School officials could have played it safe and assumed it never would.

Instead, they dreamed big. And several years later, that dream has paid off.

Congratulations to everyone who put in the effort to make "Frida Kahlo: Timeless" a reality.

The exhibition boosted the local economy while introducing a generation of suburban young people to one of the most recognizable artists of the 20th century.

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