If there is an archive of fake Frida Kahlo paintings and ephemera awaiting publication, it would appear its time has come. The Art Newspaper reports the contents in Finding Frida Kahlo, a book of unpublished Kahlo work belonging to Carlos Noyola and Leticia FernÃ¡ndez, has been denounced as fake by scholars. Not that you need much academic training to spot a phony two dollar bill when you see one–in my brief perusal of the book only a few days prior to the controversy, I had mistaken it as a collection of bad contemporary art inspired by the artist. A few highlights from the book below illustrate my point, (apologies for the poor picture quality).
All photos AFC
Frida and Diego in box. Nothing says “handle me with gloves” like a cut out picture of Frida, a muscled Diego, and an inscription reading, “Fucking Diego! You cure everybody’s souls and hemorrhoids But with me you cure not even A drink of pulque Diego kills 40 years.”
At last, Frida Kahlo’s long lost frog humping penis drawing has been found! The text for this? “This toad is indeed a bastard. He has a very big cock of you want to meet him…” I’m not joking.
The requisite skillfully executed skull.
And finally, for those who can’t get enough self portraits, Frida on a painter’s palette.
Some of the work may appear slightly more authentic than the ones I chose to reproduce, but it’s fairly clear these works weren’t all executed by Frida Kahlo. For this reason, it’s a mystery why Princeton Architectural Press went to press with the project in the first place.
While the publishing house maintains these doubts are addressed in the book, they fail to mention that their publication materials describe the found work in a far more positive light. From the press release:
Finding Frida Kahlo presents, for the first time in print, an astonishing lost archive of one of the twentieth century’s most revered artists. Hidden from view for over half a century, this richly illustrated, intimate portrait overflows with fascinating details about Kahlo’s romances, friendships, and business affairs during a three-decade period, beginning in the 1920s when she was a teenager and ending just before she died in 1954. Full of ardent desires, seething fury, and outrageous humor, Finding Frida Kahlo is a rare glimpse into an exuberant and troubled existence: A vivid diary entry records her sexual encounter with a woman named Doroti; a painted box contains eleven stuffed hummingbirds, concealed beneath a letter in which she laments her discovery that her husband, Diego Rivera, had been monstrously dissecting “these beautiful creatures” to extract an aphrodisiac; an altered French medical book describes the pain she was suffering from the amputation of her right leg, written by Kahlo upon pages that illustrate an amputation technique; a letter to a friend expresses her loneliness, and a simple request for coconut candies. Frida Kahlo never wrote an autobiography. Instead, she left behind a much more complex material universe. Finding Frida Kahlo offers scholars and fans alike an opportunity to examine firsthand Kahlo’s secret world and draw their own conclusions about how she imagined her place in it.
At no point do the publishers mention that Finding Frida Kahlo’s author doesn’t claim to be an authority on the subject. Additionally, from the way they describe the material, scholars would never need to discuss its authenticity, only its contribution to Kahlo’s history. When asked for comment, author Barbara Levine who told the Art Newspaper via email that the book is about her “personal encounter with the materials.” While this may be true, Finding Frida Kahlo certainly suggests she thinks the material is legitimate. Even a small excerpt from her visit to the Noyola shop in first pages of the book indicates as much,
“I am not a Kahlo scholar; I have no credentials to support any opinions I might have had about the authenticity or importance of the material in these cases. In the midst of it all, however, my intuition, my collecting instincts, and my museum experience converged, and I was drawn to the cases and their contents. The thought that I should stop handling these valuable artifacts without white gloves occurred to me, even though I understood that others had seen this collection in this same casual manner and I couldn’t help but think there are scholars, curators, and conservators and protocols that apply when a discovery of this kind is made. [emphasis mine]“
Given some of the reproductions Finding Frida Kahlo attributes to the artist, this statement gives me pause. While Levine may not be an authority on Kahlo, she is the former Director of Exhibitions at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. This at least makes her something of an authority on art. Given her experience, Levine seems to think it may take years to fully evaluate the authenticity of each work in the collection. I’m no Frida expert either, but based on the images I saw, I doubt it will take as long as she thinks.