Friday, December 3

Frida Kahlo hits the auction block: $ 34.9 million for ‘Diego y yo’

Frida Kahlo’s tears have been sold for $ 34.9 million (30.8 million euros), at Sotheby’s New York. Despite the good record, it has fallen far short of the maximum estimated price, $ 50 million. It was the most advertised lot in months and the most desired in the fall of the post-pandemic auctions. The sale of ‘Diego y yo’ (1949), one of the most painful self-portraits of the Mexican artist, painted a decade after divorcing the muralist Diego Rivera and nine years after remarrying him, has far surpassed the old Kahlo’s record, with the 2016 sale of ‘Two Nudes in the Forest (The Earth Itself)’ for eight million dollars. It has also become the most expensive Latin American work of art sold at auction, surpassing —poetic justice— the record of 9.8 million dollars marked by the 2019 sale of ‘Los rivales’, by Diego Rivera.

‘The broken column’, or how Frida Kahlo put her whole life in a self-portrait

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The painting belonged to the collector and gallery owner Mary Anne Martin, who has been responsible for promoting Latin American art in Manhattan since 1982. ‘Diego y yo’ was the first Latin American work to break the million dollar barrier when it sold for 1.4 million of dollars, in 1990. Now, thirty years later, she is once again the benchmark for the Mexican artist at auctions. The art market has only taken thirty years to react to one of its best products: Frida Kahlo, a very popular artist, very little prolific and with very little supply.

In 1984, the Government of Mexico awakened Kahlo’s talent and declared all of Frida Kahlo’s work a national heritage. This imposed strong restrictions that prevent taking the artist’s work out of the country. Only those that remain in the US — those that Frida and Diego released when they traveled through California, Detroit, and Chicago — are available for the international market. It is estimated that only 10% of the artist’s catalog is for sale outside the country after the norm implemented by Mexican President Miguel de la Madrid. Since then there have been two Frida Kahlo markets: the indoor and the outdoor, with significantly lower prices in the first. The shortage of work has led to an incredible number of counterfeits. The specialists come across a hundred false paintings a year.

In the painting sold in New York on Tuesday night, Kahlo portrayed herself as an obsessive woman. It was the same in the final part of his career, as can be seen in other works such as ‘The wound table’ (1940) and ‘The broken column’ (1944). ‘Diego and I’ started it a few months before the spinal operation that will end with the amputation of a leg. The panel does not lack blood, tears and sweat as unmistakable signs of the artist’s painful iconography. In the image and likeness of a Renaissance portrait, Kahlo is portrayed with the presence of her husband on her forehead, as an inevitable thought, while his hair surrounds her neck as if he wanted to strangle her. It is an intense, haunting and dramatic painting.

To put in context the amount paid by Frida Kahlo, ‘Propped’ is the piece by a living artist that has been paid the most at auction: in 2019 Jenny Saville saw her work reach $ 12.5 million. A year earlier, Jeff Koons (creator of Puppy, the dog at the Guggenheim Bilbao) had set the male record: 91.1 million dollars for his ‘Rabbit’. As the finance professor at the Yale School of Management, William Goetzmann, pointed out last year, women’s art represents a great opportunity, because high-quality art is available “at a bargain price.” Maybe this Kahlo result is the end of the sales.

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