Friday, October 02, 2009

Finding Frida Kahlo, A collection of fakes - or the real deal?

Real or fake? A treasure trove of works that may possibly been done by Frida Kahlo is disputed by her decedents.

Frida Kahlos or Frauds?

Carlos Noyola, the art and antiques dealer who acquired the collection, says he has proved that it is. There are 1,200 items, worth a fortune if they were Kahlo’s, everything from stuffed hummingbirds, like the one she wears as a necklace in a 1940 self-portrait, to a small notebook of private thoughts and sexually explicit drawings.

In fact, when all was said and done, the trove included 16 small oil paintings, 23 watercolors and pastels, 59 notebook pages (diary entries, recipes, etc.), 73 anatomical studies (some dated prior to Kahlo's disfiguring 1925 trolley accident), 128 pencil and crayon drawings, 129 illustrated prose-poems, and 230 letters to Carlos Pellicer, the Modernist poet and Frida's close confidant, many adorned with sketches -- skulls, insects, lizards, birds.

Mostly it's ephemera, like a small box holding 11 taxidermy hummingbirds. There are pistols, such as an ornate 1870 Remington; a tricolor Mexican flag, its central white panel altered to celebrate Leon Trotsky ("Troski") and the Communist Party, to which Kahlo and Rivera belonged; hotel bills; photographs; receipts for sales of Rivera paintings; an embroidered huipil, a traditional Mayan blouse; an intimate diary, with one entry expressing Frida's intense (and unrequited) erotic attraction to lesbian ranchera singer Chavela Vargas; a French medical text on amputation, painted over with blood-red pigments; and more.

The Kahlo cache is said to have been stored for 50 years in two wooden chests, a metal trunk, a wooden box and a battered suitcase. The forthcoming book, honest in its uncertainty about authenticity, tells a spare but reasonable history of ownership -- first given by the dying artist to sculptor Abraham Jimenez Lopez, a friend of Kahlo and Rivera's, in 1954, and then sold by him to attorney Manuel Marcue in 1979 -- as well as the Noyolas' initial efforts at verification.

But the publication by Princeton Architectural Press of a glossy art book in the United States about the trove has mobilized a diverse group of experts in Mexico, the United States and Europe who say that the objects are fake. Last week the Mexican government trust that controls the copyright to Kahlo’s work filed a criminal complaint against Mr. Noyola, a measure aimed at investigating the works. The trust is also investigating legal recourse in the United States to halt sale of the books.

he book, “Finding Frida Kahlo,” scheduled for publication on Nov. 1 but already available on Amazon (they already have used copies for sale) and elsewhere, contains lavish illustrations of many items in the collection.

Beginning in 2004, the couple said, they bought the items from a reclusive Mexico City lawyer, who told them that he had acquired them from a woodcarver who had made frames for Kahlo. She trusted him so much that she gave the woodcarver several suitcases and boxes full of her most intimate possessions. The Noyolas tracked down a photograph of the woodcarver, Abraham Jiménez López, which appears in the book.

They had the works authenticated by Ruth Alvarado, Rivera’s granddaughter, who died two years ago. They also consulted three artists who studied and worked with Kahlo and Rivera in the 1940s. One of them, Arturo García Bustos, signed numerous certificates of authentication for the works. Mr. García Bustos said that he recognized Kahlo’s hand in the work. “I observed, I knew the maestra’s personality,” he said, using the Spanish term of respect for a teacher and also an artist. “I see it reflected in the works of the collection.”

The Noyolas also hired a handwriting expert recognized by Mexican courts and an expert in chemical analysis who works with the government’s National Institute of Fine Arts. Both presented evidence to suggest that the trove could be real.

But such arguments do nothing to sway critics like Hilda Trujillo Soto, adjunct director at the Frida Kahlo Museum in Mexico City. “The title and the text trick people who buy the book in good faith thinking that it’s about Frida,” she said. “The publisher is taking a cynical attitude. They are disseminating Frida Kahlo fakes.”

Katharine Myers, publicity director of Princeton Architectural Press, said that the publisher would continue to sell the book because it clearly states that the objects are still under study.

Authenticating art is by its nature subjective, the result of years of experience. One of the foremost Kahlo scholars, Salomon Grimberg, a co-author of Kahlo’s catalogue raisonné and the author of several studies on Kahlo, said he believed the collection was fake. Seeing the originals of the letters, he said, is unnecessary. “I know the handwriting. The content of these letters is not accurate. It has nothing to do with what she thought.”

The New York Times article is here: It has a small multi-media show with some examples of the questioned work compared to authentic work.
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