This week in amusing news updates: Latin American dealer Mary-Anne Martin and L.A. Times critic Christopher Knight discuss the going “dispute” over the so-called new Frida-Kahlos reproduced in Barbara Levine's forthcoming book Finding Frida Kahlo, on NPR’s KCRW. Last month, Knight wrote a feature on the subject, calling for second look at Carlos Noyola and Leticia FernÃ¡ndez collection of Kahlo-attributed ephemera. KCRW host Ruth Seymour also seems to believe they are real, while Latin American dealer Mary-Anne Martin and many other experts in the field maintain they are fake. A break down of their arguments below:
Provenance. Received the work from the sculptor Abraham Lopez, a friend of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo. The story: Frida gave him 5 chests of ephemera in exchange for money owed. Lawyer who brokered the deal lives with two hundred dogs.
Insufficient examination of work by experts. Immediately denounced as a fake and fraud, none of them had seen many of actual works. No one had seen the archive of the collection. It’s largely ephemera.
The junk drawer argument. Some of the material might not be Frida’s but stuff she collected.
Almost everything is signed! Christopher Knight won’t go so far as to say it was all signed by her.
Forensic science. Scientists determined that paint samples from some of the paintings he looked at were at least 50 years old. Why would anyone be forging paintings in the 40s when there was no interest in her work?
Insufficient examination of work by experts. Why won’t the experts see the work in person?
We all know lost treasures can be found. Ruth Seymour is one of the lucky few who found one herself.
What about chemical analysis? Why won’t that convince the experts?
Insufficient examination of work by experts. Never received an invitation to authenticate the work. Lists her qualifications, which include founding the Latin American department at Sotheby’s, selling the first Frida Kahlo, establishing her own gallery specializing in the field, giving lectures on fake Kahlos, and dealing with originals and fakes every day.
What about chemical analysis? Handwriting and chemical analysis are not the first step. This then leads to the best exchange in the interview:
Mary-Anne Martin: You only do that if there’s a question.
Ruth Seymour: But there is a question
MAM: Only in the minds of the people who have been duped.
RS: I gotta tell you, if you say there’s no question, you’re denying there’s even an argument.
MAM: I am. But there’s a wonderful thing here. Daniel Friedman, who seems to be the husband of a woman named Jennifer Church, who wrote the commentary for the Mexican pre-publication of the book – it’s another version of the book that came out about a year ago…[wrote] 12 pages of analysis of an inscription inside a little Mexican box, which you can buy again in any Mexican folk art store. He spends 12 pages trying to analyze whether an inscription in red ink is in blood or not. He concludes it’s not animal blood or human blood, but the question is why would even analyze it in the first place? Frida didn’t write in blood and the inscription is in bright red ink, in 50 years it would be brown! So the premises are wrong.
We all know lost treasures can be found. There are more paintings that are fake on display than those that are real that have been discovered.
Other relevant details
- Works have been offered to collectors despite the fact they say they aren’t for sale.
- Collection is filled anachronisms, misspellings, the writing seems to by three or four people and does not reflect Frida’s education. Provides examples such as a work depicting leg amputation prior to that having happened.
- Martin says she not only can identify previously circulating fakes in the collection, but the styles of individual forgers in the collection of ephemera.
I suppose my deepest annoyance with this story is that it embodies the kind of false myths that create art world controversy where there is none. Resting one’s case on the fallacy of experts “who haven’t seen the work in person” isn’t an argument for its legitimacy. It’s an argument meant to discredit the expert. But what kind of specialist flies to examine obviously fake documents? It’s like accusing an Anne Frank expert of malpractice for failing to fly to Germany to examine the long lost chapter about her iPod. There’s no point. Past this, the logic of the “You haven’t seen it in person” argument can only be sustained if the naysayer maintains the belief that the experience of viewing art is so spiritually transformative that art’s basic physical make up could be completely changed through an in-person visit. That’s just wrong.
Editors note: I worked at Mary-Anne Fine Art for eight months between 2001-2002.