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Saturday night was overcast and nippy, but inside the Detroit Institute of Arts, the celebratory atmosphere was reminiscent of sun-splashed Cuernavaca during a fiesta.

Nearly 800 visitors flocked to a sold-out preview party a day before the official opening of the exhibition Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo in Detroit, which includes almost 70 works by the husband-and-wife Mexican artists. Rivera (1886-1957) and Kahlo (1907-54) lived in Detroit in 1932-33 at the Wardell Apartment Hotel (now the Park Shelton) while Rivera was commissioned to paint his Detroit Industry frescoes at the DIA. The current exhibit features eight large preparatory drawings for Detroit Industry.

Kahlo, who was little known at that time, also painted several works here that have since become famous.

The party was held primarily for the 22 community organizations that are hosting events in tandem with the exhibition, but the $25 tickets were also sold to the general public.

The main draw, of course, was the exhibit, but Rivera Court was lilting with music from Detroit-based groups Mariachi Gallos de Oro and Ballet Folklorico Moyocoyani Izel as guests quaffed margaritas and noshed on quesadillas and other Mexican munchies.

Many women were dressed like Frida Kahlo, with bold costumes and vibrant flowers in their hair.

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"Frida Kahlo has a cult following in almost every city," said Adam Pattison, the DIA's director of visitor services. "I've seen many women tonight dressed like Frida, and some little girls, too. I think Frida has overshadowed Diego Rivera today."

That opinion certainly held sway with several people waiting in line to see the exhibit. One such woman, Sandra Gardiner of Rochester, had her hair upswept like Kahlo's and garlanded with fuchsia flowers. She also donned a pair of earrings bearing Kahlo's image.

"I love art, but Frida was also inspiring because she was so fashionable," Gardiner said.

Deborah Sanders of Detroit was another Kahlo admirer waiting in line.

"I like her because she was assertive and self-confident at a time when it wasn't common for women to be that way," Sanders said.

"I saw the film Frida with Salma Hayek and now I'm excited to see the exhibit."

As she neared the end of seeing Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo in Detroit, Theresa Gomez of Saginaw admitted being deeply moved. "Very somber," she said of the exhibit, particularly Kahlo's work.

"I feel a little melancholy looking at her paintings because they're filled with such pain," a pensive Gomez said. The exhibition includes such harrowing works as Henry Ford Hospital, which Kahlo painted after suffering a miscarriage in Detroit, Suicide of Dorothy Hale, and the bloody A Few Small Nips.

"She and Diego had no children, but she wanted a child so much," Gomez said.

Kahlo no doubt would have been proud of Gomez's hand-embroidered floral garments.

"They're from Mexico and belonged to my mother," she said.

If you go

Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo in Detroit opens March 15 at the DIA, 5200 Woodward in Detroit, and runs through July 12, 2015. Adults $14 Tue.-Fri. and $19 Sat.-Sun. Ages 6-17: $9 all days. For exhibition tickets: dia.org.

For related community programs: ixiti.com/diegoandfrida

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