Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Controversy Surrounds Recent Frida Kahlo Discovery

(Above) Cover of new book, Finding Frida Kahlo. Click on image for larger view.

(Above) Letter to Carlos Pellicer, second paragraph (right side):
Click image for larger view.

“How angry I

become when
I read this.
Come see me I want
to tell you about something
very interesting.
I am alone and
I get desperate.
How much I have
to paint and I do not
finish; I wait for you

Frida K.

P.S. Bring me coconut candies.”

(Above) Contents of small box. Click on image for larger view.

(Above) Painted and decorated front of book. Click on image for larger view.

(Above) Contents of small box, with baby doll and scrapbook. Click on image for larger view.

(Above) Love letter to Diego where she ends with “I ask my heart, why you and not someone else? Toad of my soul. Frida K.” Click on image for larger view.

(Above) Pages and pages of notes, drawings, letters and other ephemera were found. Click on image for larger view.

(Above) Inside spread of book (pgs. 140 and 141) showing cover of Kahlo diary complete with numerous graphic erotic drawings detailing her many affairs and thoughts of sex. Click on image for larger view.

(Above) Inside spread of the book (pgs. 72 and 73), with photograph of what appears to be a piece of wallpaper Frida used to write on. Click on image for larger view.


I AM NOT AN EXPERT ON FRIDA KAHLO (1906 –1954), but the recent book by Barbara Levine (with Stephen Jaycox) Finding Frida Kahlo revealing a newly found treasure trove of Kahlo artifacts has certainly peaked my interest to learn more. I read the book, cover to cover—fascinated by the intimate objects, paintings, drawings, altered books and private letters by the tempestuous, self-taught artist. Kahlo was married to the famous Mexican muralist Diego Rivera. Their relationship was marked by frequent and open affairs with other lovers, and Kahlo herself had affairs with both men and women. Fraught with numerous health problems, including polio at age 6 and from a terrible automobile (bus) accident at the beginning of her teenage years—Kahlo suffered most of her life with complications and illnesses associated with her physical misfortunes.


This discovery (and subsequent book) came about from a happenchance meeting by author Barbara Levine with Carlos and Leticia Noyola, and their son Diego, in their antique shop, La Buhardilla Antiquarios (The Attic Antiques) in San Miguel, Mexico. Levine was formerly director of exhibitions at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and has been actively involved with publishing books, collecting vernacular photography, art and other ephemera.


A discovery like this is the kind of thing that all collectors dream of. It’s the reason I still go to flea markets and estate sales—hoping against all hope that maybe—just maybe—the case under the table or the box in the barn behind the house will contain something you identify as great, rare and wonderful. Most collectors go a lifetime without such a discovery.


The book is wonderful. Reading the translated letters by Frida—her cursing Diego, longing for him—reveals the kind of relationship the two artists had with each other. Her erotic drawings and others are packed with symbolism and cryptic hints at dual meanings allowing for much interpretation. The design of the book is beautiful, but how could it not be? It was designed by Martin Venezky and his Appetite Engineers design shop in San Francisco.


Levine and the publisher present the archive for what it is—several trunks and suitcases of what looks to be authentic personal materials, art objects and ephemera of Frida Kahlo. Though numerous experts on Kahlo have studied the found objects and declared them authentic, Kahlo “insiders” have been screaming fake. Most, if not all of these naysayers have not even examined and held the newly discovered materials, and are basing their opinions from published photos of the contents alone. Though there is money (and professional reputations) to be made or lost in the controversy, you won’t see Levine or the publisher Princeton Architectural Press suffer from the final outcome if the materials are fake. Why? They are simply putting the archive out there for the experts to feed on and fight over. Like throwing chum in an ocean of sharks, they are content to let truth settle the issue. I like that. It is what it is.


As for me, I have examined thousands and thousands of art objects and ephemeral things in my lifetime and I have this to say, admittedly based simply on looking at the book: faking this archive of letters, doodles, drawings, writings, prose and artwork would have meant finding a mainline into the very soul of Frida Kahlo. The words alone, in the letters and sketches supporting them, feel so idiosyncratic and personal that I just do not believe it possible to conjure up such a private, personal dialogue. The letters are stained, dirty and certainly pass at least the first level of my “forgery radar.” If the archive turns out to be fake—it will certainly be considered a most masterful and detailed scam. And, in that there is not a single so-called “masterwork” in the entire found collection, the question I would have to ask is ”why?” I can understand forging letters and other such things to support or set the stage for a multi-million dollar forgery—but this? While the collection is endlessly fascinating and revealing of Kahlo—I cannot imagine this much work forged for one grandiose scheme. But then again....?


Stay tuned, while the experts fight this one out.


And here you can read a very thorough, in-depth article about the discovery and controversy by Christopher Knight, of the LA Times.

5 comments:

Natalie said...

Frida is such an incredibly interesting woman. Standing and admiring the 'The two Fridas' in Mexico City was a trully amazing experience. I would love to get hold of this book and ponder the workings of her mind, especially the tempestuous relationship with Diego.

Maureen said...

Always been fascinated by her, never understood Diego's hold over her. Liked "the toad of my soul" comment, because toad certainly fits.

Red-SSR said...

Frida has always been a favorite artist and this new discovery of her secret thoughts and images...WOW!

MrPictures said...

I believe that judgment should follow experience at a respectful distance. Here and in the LA Times' Kinght's article there is a calm place in this small tempest.
Finding Frida Kahlo is the exploration of a collection of objects placed away in five boxes, the reasons people might gather things and the knowledge that can be gained through their contemplation.
The intended audience for most of these things seems to have been one (Frida) or maybe two (Frida and the Toad) or none (the hotel bar bill?) and the intended market would appear to have been none (I know, hard to believe in an artworld valued in $$).
I once found 12 Edward Weston prints plus correspondence in a box left by a late, derelict, old alcoholic friend of a friend.
And,yes, Martin Venezky is a genius!

Olga said...

The experts have good reason to doubt the works featured in the book. Faking a treasure trove has proven time and time again to be extremely profitable.

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