Saturday, July 17, 2010

gorgeous book of frida kahlo fakes (Finding Frida Kahlo)

Today I happened on a copy of this beautiful book, Finding Frida Kahlo, which purports to be a collection of ephemera belonging to Frida including trunks, suitcases, recipes, letters, and journals, as well as some exquisite stuffed hummingbirds, some pistols, and a Mexican flag. The photographs are like curio-box alternate-reality versions of Kahlo's paintings or diary. I didn't look at it long, since it was expensive and I wasn't really out shopping for books. When I got home I looked it up, originally hoping that there just happened to be a used copy for sale somewhere online for under $10, and/or to rifle the google books preview for images. Turns out the items are fakes. 

Even just seeing the slideshow on the NY Times article about it, the differences in style and handwriting are pretty apparent. Once it's pointed out that basically every object in the book is signed with her name or initials, that these signatures don't look much like how she signed her work, and that she actually didn't even sign things that often (let alone constantly) it seems obvious, especially considering the author said she didn't want to go through getting the items professionally verified since "that could take years" and she was eager to publish quickly. (Not to mention that the foremost Kahlo scholars all agree that they're fakes.)  

A bit from this Andrew Purcell article about it that I think is hilarious:
“The content is being manufactured, working backwards from known biographical details,” she [New York dealer Mary-Anne Martin] says. “The entry about ‘being bisexual’ is not even spelled correctly. Also, in the 1940s, bisexual meant hermaphrodite. We don’t think the term existed when these diaries were supposedly written. They’re full of funny mistakes like that.”
I wish I could've found more images on the web. There were these strange anatomical sketches, plus a weird book of anatomy that had been drawn over, and some pages of just text that were beautiful just as handwriting and images. I was looking at the book completely uncritically at the time, so I was just vaguely interested and surprised in all of the drawings of genitalia, and wondered how they fit into the little I know about Kahlo's life. But in retrospect, a lot of the images had a very contemporary look to them. 

The author and collectors maintain that this collection would be interesting even if the objects didn't belong to Frida Kahlo. And they would! They're gorgeous, and the photographs are really lush and well-styled. It's just obviously wrong to put Frida's name on them to sell museum tickets and books. I for one would probably buy the book anyway -- if I had $50 to spend on a coffee table book, which I do not. (And if I did, rather than support this silly fraud, I would save half my money and buy Sibella Court's Etcetera instead, a book of beautifully styled ephemera that doesn't claim to be anything else!) Hell, they could've even put Frida's name on it without claiming that she produced all of these things. I mean, I'm interested in these items visually, and I'm also interested in the story of them being fakes. I want a book about that! Where did these beautiful objects come from? Are antique dealers in Mexico selling anything that looks over 40 years old to Americans by claiming that it once belonged to Frida Kahlo? What if a couple of them are authentic? Which people honestly think these are real, or just want to believe that they are, and which people are just cynically copying early photos of Frida Kahlo holding some severed limbs? Did some of them actually belong to her, like how Andre Breton and other surrealists collected Oceanic art, taxidermy animals, and just weird stuff they thought was cool? What kinds of narratives are being created about Frida by these objects and by the people who try to pass them off as real? Now that would be an interesting book. 

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