Frida Kahlo’s new monograph goes beyond the individual genius story


It’s no secret that Frida Kahlo has permeated the zeitgeist like few artists have. The crown braid, the unibrow and the direct gaze saturate our collective imagination. But the way we talk about Kahlo has been shaped largely by her most widely circulated works, leaving behind a larger portfolio. Dominant interpretations of his work shed light on his high-profile private life. Overall, Fridamania has been fueled by narratives centered around a unique artistic vision, sensationalism, and the commodification of her likeness.

Frida Kahlo: The Complete Paintings by art historians Andrea Kettenmann and Marina Vázquez Ramos (edited by Luis-Martín Lozano) brings together for the first time all 152 known paintings by Kahlo in one place. The extra-large monograph of over 500 pages aims to overcome the noise and over-commercialization of the Mexican icon and return to its artistic production. As Lozano notes, “The number of books and articles that have appeared on the story of his life, his house, his recipes… has continued to increase, but in comparison there have been a little less. analyzes of his paintings. In collaboration with Andrea Kettenmann and Marina Vázquez Ramon, Lozano provides detailed descriptions of each of Kahlo’s works, including new studies of well-known works and paintings whose whereabouts remain unknown.

Lozano devotes the first half of the book to exploring Kahlo’s artistic career and developing his artistic language. Commonly revered as a unique genius fueled by pain, the four chapters recalibrate this narrative by tracing Kahlo’s intellectual engagement with the art history and aesthetic discussions of his time. Kahlo’s early inspiration from the Western canon can be easily seen through side-by-side comparisons of his work with compositions by Agnolo Bronzino, Leonardo da Vinci, Titian, and other European masters. Lozano also works through a network of conceptual references to eloquently identify Kahlo’s relationship with contemporary art movements, including Dadaism, Surrealism, and lesser-known connections to the German portraiture and the New Objectivity.

The main dish of the monumental tome comes in the second half of the book where Lozano, Kettenmann and Ramon interpret Kahlo’s entire catalog. Together they provide a new context for canonical works and emphasize the importance of obscure paintings. The virtue of some entries is that they present lesser-known works to the general public, while others position the lost paintings as complementary to more well-known masterpieces. “The Wounded Table” (1939/40) was one of two works along with “Las Dos Fridas” (The Two Fridas) (1939) included in the 1940 International Surrealism Exhibition in Paris – the exhibition that cemented Kahlo as an international artist. Lozano sees the two works in conversation, with “Las Dos Fridas” as a portrayal of Kahlo’s divorce from Diego Rivera, and “The Wounded Table” as his future future.

Frida Kahlo, “The Two Fridas” (1939) oil on canvas, 68. x 68⅛ inches, Mexico City, Ministry of Culture, Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes y Literatura, Museo de Arte Moderno (photo by LML Archive; Copyright: © Banco de Mexico Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums Trust / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2021)

Notably, Lozano brings new perspectives to “A Few Small Nips (Passionately in Love)” (1935-1938), one of the most important paintings associated with Kahlo and frequently included in retrospective exhibitions. The oil painting, of a woman impaled with multiple stab wounds lying on a bed next to her attacker, is known to be inspired by a report and often seen as a metaphor for Kahlo’s state after discovering the affair between Diego Rivera and his sister Cristina. Kahlo. In a quasi-investigative way, Lozano highlights formal references to German painters George Grosz and Otto Dix who had both produced a body of work exploring the theme of violence against women. Dix’s “Sex Murder” (1922) “has an undeniable connection in terms of composition and psychology”.

Last year, artist Oroma Elewa’s efforts to recover and rectify a quote commonly mistakenly attributed to Kahlo were well documented on social networks, and perfectly illustrate what has become of Fridamania. It’s an uphill battle to overcome the wave of disinformation and flattened narratives associated with Kahlo today, but the authors are heading towards that goal. Frida Kahlo: The Complete Paintings privileges the Mexican painter’s career as an artist and the history of her art over familiar tropes. The authors strive to demystify Kahlo’s mythification by drawing inspiration only from his personal life with precise artistic reference points throughout, resulting in a more nuanced portrayal of Kahlo as an artist.

Frida Kahlo. Complete paintings is published by Taschen and is available on Bookshop.

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