by Barbara Levine with Stephen Jaycox

Finding Frida Kahlo

This book has caused some debate in the art world. Apparently Carlos and Leticia Noyola, art dealers in Mexico purchased a whole archive collection of never before seen Frida Kahlo personal pieces including a suitcase, two wooden chests, a metal trunk, a wooden box. These were filled with letters, a diary, recipes and notes and sketches among small strange keepsakes. So the art dealers teamed up with curator Barbara Levine to share the new discovered collection in this thick beautiful book. And the book is amazing. It’s huge gorgeous photography of all the artifacts laid out. English translations are provided when necessary. The letters are heart-wrenching and desperate sounding, to Diego explaining her anger or lust for him. Some diary writings talk about her sexual encounters with a woman, Doroti. I mean, it’s all so so fascinating. And I was never a huge Frida fan- until now. Such personal objects have so much history and I love that her story is told through them alone.

So when researching more info about the book I was sorely disappointed to find an article in the Guardian about how there’s some skepticism over whether the collection is authentic. From another article in The Art Newspaper (from August 20th) who interviewed a Latin American art dealer Mary-Anne Martin:
“In my view the publishers have been the victims of a gigantic hoax,” says New York-based Latin American art dealer Mary-Anne Martin, who has bought and sold numerous works by Kahlo (1907-54). “The perpetrators have constructed all these letters, poems, drawings and recipes, using Frida’s biography and her published letters as a roadmap. The drawings are badly done, the writing infantile, the content crude; the anatomy drawings look like something from a butcher shop instruction book. The paintings are ‘pastiches’, composites based on published works. The provenance provided is unverifiable and meaningless. There’s nothing I would like more than to discover a group of unknown works by Frida Kahlo, but there is no way on earth that any of these works could pass muster at Sotheby’s, Christie’s, or my gallery. I am astounded it has gone as far as it has.”

I couldn’t find any more recent articles with an update about this. I really want to believe that all of these items are real. But I do think it’s rather odd to have found a collection like this and not have some sort of huge museum exhibition of the pieces. A book seems like the second step after a show. In the book there is an interview with the Noyola’s who claimed to have brought some of the pieces to Diego Rivera’s grandmother and the Fridos (students who studied with Frida and Diego) who ultimately gave them a certificate of authenticity. Also they claimed they got a chemical analysis of one of the oil paintings.

If anyone has any updates about this developing case, I would love to here more. You can get a copy of the book right here

UPDATE: I received a email from Kevin Lippert of Princeton Architectural Press, the publisher. I wanted to share some of his thoughts:
“Like you, we were extremely excited when Barbara Levine called us last year with news of this discovery, and while it’s possible that she, and then we, were duped, we did have the results of the analyses by the chemist and graphologist, both of whom declared the materials genuine, which seemed at the time enough to proceed with the project (the detailed process of authentication being more of a problem for the Noyolas than us), so I have to say I’m taken aback by the hailstorm surrounding the book, and find the whole issue of forgeries and authentication eye-opening, both in general and in this specific instance. For example, not a single person who has denounced this collection as fake (and there is a “denouncement” press release put out by a group of gallery owners, scholars, and others whose interest in the matter is clearly in conflict) has actually seen the materials in question, these are opinions based purely on hearsay and subjective impressions, not on any firsthand analysis of the actual pieces. Not being an art historian, I thought authentication is a more scientific process, probably involving analyses of paper, paint, gesso, fabrics, and so on. Instead, I’m told, it’s more a process of intuition and “gut reaction” which seems akin to having your physician diagnose you from an old photograph. Yesterday I learned that a 2008 exhibition of Kahlo’s work at the at the Gehrke Remund Art Museum in Baden-Baden, Germany was made up of “exact replicas” of Kahlo’s paintings, and not the real things, “painted exclusively for the Kunstmuseum Gehrke-Remund by master artists,” according to the museum. “They are painted in the original size, with the original materials (oil on canvas, oil on wood/metal or glass), and in exactly the same style as Frida Kahlo painted them.” And each carries, of course, the important © notice of the Banco de México Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo Museums Trust. Which I find completely crazy, but an art historian (and museum director) friend tells me this morning that the practice of using “replicas” is common! I never heard this before, and now wonder how many masterpieces I’ve admired in museums are actually paint-by-number-esque copies.”

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