Frida Kahlo mystery
The book, "Finding Frida Kahlo," documents a treasure trove of more than 1,000 previously unknown Kahlo items--but their authenticity is in question.
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Story by the BBC's Andrew Purcell for "Here and Now."
A probe has been launched into claims that artworks featured in a new book about the famed Mexican artist Frida Kahlo are fakes. The claims are coming from dealers and critics in the art world, and they want the book pulled from the shelves.
The publishers of Barbara Levine's book, "Finding Frida Kahlo," say the book makes it clear that some of the items featured are not 100 percent authenticated. The book includes diary entries, letters, and sketches, and purports to document a treasure trove of more than 1,200 Kahlo items on display at a Mexican antique store.
"The clothing, the notebooks, the drawings, the paintings; then I came across a self portrait by Kahlo, which just sort of made me freeze," said Levine. "I felt like I had come upon an archaelogical site that needed exploration. It was really overwhelming that it could possibly be Frida Kahlo."
Her first reaction was disbelief that so much work by a major 20th century artist could remain undiscovered for so long -- doubts that she owns up to in the book.
"It is hard to believe," she says. "Let's just say that it is a ficticious archive. Who would be so obsessed with Frida Kahlo that they would create 1,200 primarily ephemeral, non-exhibition quality materials? That is an interesting story in and of itself."
The owner of the collection, Carlos Noyola, says there is a simple reason it has stayed hidden. Kahlo, he says, deliberately left it to sculptor Jimenez Lopez to keep it separate from the official archive at her house, the Casa Azul, on the outskirts of Mexico City. Lopez was a close friend in the last years of her life,
"The first owner of the collection kept it, silently, for more than 25 years, and never wanted to show it, or sell it to anyone," said Noyola. "Because Frida told him that these were very personal, intimate things that she didn't want to keep in the Casa Azul because she knew that when she died, everything would end up in a museum and that would expose her intimacy to everyone."
The first item to be released is a painting of Kahlo with her head superimposed on the body of a deer. It was immediately announced as a fake, but no one really took it seriously until Levine's book threatened to make the situation known to a much wider audience.
Last month, a group af celebrated Kahlo scholars, including her biographer Hayden Herrera; the executor of her trust, Carlos Phillips Olmedo; and the author of her catalog resume, Salomon Grimberg; wrote an open letter to Mexico's arts council, urging it to put a stop to this type of fraud.
New York Art dealer Marianne Martin, a specialist in Latin American art also signed the letter. Her copy of Levine's book has many Post It notes sprouting from its pages, each one marking a major discrepancy or major proof that a given work is a forgery.
"Why don't we just say that the title of 'Finding Frida Kahlo' has been a challenge in that I have been looking for Frida Kahlo in this book for almost a month and I haven't found her yet."
Martin asserts that every item reproduced in the book is a forgery, "If you examine it, you will find some spelling error, or some anachronism, or some evidence that the work is based on other known works; but I don't think you are going to find the hand of Frida Kahlo. A number of people have worked on this archive; it's not just one person."
Carlos Noyola says he has been scrupulous in proving the archive's authenticity. The graphologist he hired confirmed that the handwriting is Kahlo's. Chemical analysis of the paint showed that it dates from the 1940s. Kahlo's proteges believe it to be genuine. To Nayola, the establishment is crying fraud because it is a closed shop, worried about losing its monopoly.
"They say the work is fake with arguments that are illogical, incongruent, and invalid, with no objective basis. None of these critics have seen a single piece of the archive in person.
"What makes me very sad is that Mexico's art institutions haven't shown any interest in this archive either. They're a mafia, but Frida Kahlo belongs to the world, not only to Mexico."
Noyola is in negotiations with a museum in Tucson, Arizona to exhibit the collection early next year. Meanwhile, images from the archive are being passed around on the internet, blurring the lines between what's true and isn't, intertwining Frida Kahlo's reality with other people's fantasies.
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