Original text by Eugenia Bertelè
The Mudec (Museum of Cultures) of Milan hosts until Wednesday June 6th 2018 a can’t-miss retrospective dedicated to the Mexican artist Frida Kalho (1907-1954). An exhibition going “beyond the myth”, that aims at beating all its many competitors born after this unstoppable Fridamania displaying unprecedented material from the archivesBIOGRAPHY VS ART How could we possibly restore the artistic value of a worldwide brand, Frida Kahlo, having her image all over the place, including tampons and nail polishes? And how should we interpret the opening of a museum, by the Riviera Maya, having its whole exhibition path based on a multimedia recreation of Frida Kalho’s life that includes everything but the display of her original works? Frida Kalho has lived the life of a rock star, that’s a fact. Looking for some examples? Woman, Latin-American, maverick, wife of the controversial wall painter Diego Rivera. Heroin surviving terrible accidents and exhausting diseases. Mother losing three fetuses. A strong personality, almost multiplying itself in the reproduction of her self-portrait – more than a third of Frida’s whole production (about 200 pieces). THE ARCHIVE, A VALUE However, what is fundamental in this Milan exhibition is the scientific study conducted by the curator Diego Sileo on the documents found by Frida’s house in Mexico City, the Casa Azul, providing a completely new perspective on her career. The exhibition consists in four sections: Woman, earth, politics and pain, and gathers together more than 70 paintings, 40 drawings, 150 letters, pictures and objects loaned by the most relevant international collections (Museo Dolores Olmedo and Jaques and Natasha Gelman Collection).
Not mentioning a couple of slipups, the romantic Italian music juxtaposing a documentary showing scenes from the life of the couple, and the explosive merchandising at the end of the path, the value of Sileo’s research stands incredibly out, making it possible to better understand Frida Kalho’s works and to give her value as an artist, giving new keys to interpretation.Moving away from all biographical simplifications, we can finally discover how she uses her body as a political and sacrificial manifesto; how she is osmotically bound to nature, how she sees the Earth as the place of both genesis and death; how she shows her femininity, how she constantly reaffirms her being Mexican through symbols like her over-stressed somatic features (eyebrows, light moustache, fuzz, thick black hair turning from pure ornament to a representation of pain), like the use of traditional clothes, through mentioning pre-Columbian characters – destroyed by her typical glance, so ironic, gritty and intriguing. A unique language, where the traditional naïf paint by Rousseau meets the influences of the surrealistic alphabet, creating Frida Kalho’s totally authentic style. BLOCKCHAIN, THE DIGITAL ARCHIVE OF TOMORROW? The archive is, therefore, one of the funding pillars of knowledge, the place treasuring history. How will archives look like in the future, I wonder? Will the new technologies – blockchain, for instance – be able to ensure data storage and simultaneously keep up with the constant upgrades of the scientific research and of the circulation of artworks? POPULARITY VS MARKET The amazing marketing now surrounding Frida Kalho doesn’t seem to depend from the quotations of her original paintings. In fact, if we look at how these quotations have changed from the ‘70s until now, it almost seems that such marketing speculations have not played in her favor.
The best result one of her works has ever achieved at an auction house was in fact recorded in 2016 at Christie’s, when Dos Desnudos en el Bosque (La Tierra Misma), 1939, was sold for 8 million dollars. During that same week a 1982 painting with a skull by Jean Michel Basquiat was sold for 57 million dollars. That painting wasn’t one of the most representatives of Frida Kalho’s vision if compared, for instance, to the self-portrait (Retrato con mono y perico, 1942) bought in 1995 by the Argentinian Edoardo Constantini for 3.192.500 dollars at Sotheby’s, New York. Such result looks very much like the cost of an opportunity within a market having a really scarce offer. www.mudec.itIn 1990, in fact, Frida had become the most paid Latin-American artist ever, selling the portrait Diego y yo, 1949, for 1.430.000 dollars at Sotheby’s, New York. Today, 20 years later, the prices have not increased significantly. The ages will tell how will the market react to this scientific reimagining of Frida Kalho, one of the most cutting-edge artists of the past century. MUDEC, Museo delle Culture, Via Tortona 56, Milan, Italy – From Thursday February 1st to Wednesday June 6th 2018 –