Frida Kahlo: The milestone of her incalculable value
A Frida Kahlo portrait was sold for a record price at Sotheby’s. The milestone still amazes us.
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What makes an artist become a cult figure? That their works go from museums and galleries to be part of the everyday? That their history and image are repeated over and over again? That their figure becomes an icon of popular culture? What makes their story of love and suffering becomes a reference point for an era, a country, a continent? Few characters like Frida Kahlo have the qualities to become not only an icon, but a milestone for future generations.
When the news broke a few weeks ago that the self-portrait of Mexican artist Diego y yo had become Latin America's most-valued painting ($34.9 million), the art world took note, once again, of this woman who knew how to reflect pain and suffering in a beautiful and heartbreaking way.
The painting was bought by the Argentine collector Eduardo F. Constantini, founder of the Museum of Latin American Art of Buenos Aires (MALBA), where since 1996, another Kahlo work has been exhibited: Self-portrait with monkey and parrot, from 1942. As reported by Sotheby's, the painting will be part of Constantini's personal collection.
Diego y yo, painted in 1949 — had already been sold at the same Sotheby's auction house in 1990 — and was the first by a Latin American artist to reach the million-dollar valuation. At that time, it was sold for $1.4 million. After her, few have managed to surpass the million barrier.
On the list of the five best-selling Latin American artists at auction, four are Mexican and contemporary to Frida, Diego Rivera — the famous muralist and Kahlo's husband — genre painter Rufino Tamayo — who, although he tried to distance himself from the political activism of his colleagues of the time, was also influenced by it — and Alfredo Ramos Martínez — considered the father of Mexican modernism. Fifth on the list is Cuban-Chilean artist Mario Carreño.
Kahlo's life is marked by pain. When she was 18-years-old, she was pierced by a rod from the bus on which she was traveling. The damage to her body made her undergo painful treatments and surgeries. She also spent long periods in convalescence, being unable to move. With an adapted easel so she could paint lying down in bed, she perfected her technique. She painted herself, painted the reflection that she saw in the mirror placed on her bed.
She became an inspiration and a canvas. Her paintings reflected what was happening in her life, the pain and the processes of rebuilding her body, her revolutionary struggle, politics and typical Mexicanism of the time, but also the love and torments that were the constant in her relationship with the muralist Diego Rivera — 21 years older than her.
Her relationships with other women — like the singer Chavela Vargas and photographer Tina Modotti — were also never a secret. Her strength and ambivalence are a fundamental part of the surreal world that she created around herself. And the self-portrait Diego y yo comes with all that passion and pain. On Diego's forehead, marked in his thoughts and on his skin, the tears in her eyes are the reflection of a tortuous love admired by many, but problematic in the era of awareness of toxic relationships and female empowerment, of which she became a symbol.