Nickolas Muray, Frida with Olmeca Figurine, Coyoacán (20/30), 1939. Color carbon print, 16 x 20 in.

Frida Kahlo As You Have 
Never Seen Her Before

Frida Kahlo: Forever Yours... 

At Throckmorton Fine Art, 145 East 57th Street, New York 
Through September 7, 2024

By Benjamin Genocchio 

Spencer Throckmorton has spent 45 years collecting the imagery for “Frida Kahlo, Forever Yours…”, an exhibition of 50 photographs depicting the life of one of the most iconic, beloved 20th century artists. It is one of the best gallery shows I have seen in a very, very long time.

Part of the allure of the imagery on view is that Frida Kahlo (1907–1954) was an exceptionally photogenic subject. She was a beautiful woman, clearly, but also habitually wore colorful, emblematic items of traditional Mexican clothing (like the Rebozo, a long flat shawl woven by indigenous weavers) coupled with weighty pre-Columbian and Native American semi-precious jewelry. She cut a striking, even exotic figure.

Left: Imogen Cunningham,Frida  (Standing by basket), 1931. Platinum / Palladium, 20 x 24 in.  Right: Nickolas Muray, Frida Kahlo with Magenta Rebozo "Classic", 1939. Lithograph mounted on board, 22 x 17.50 in.

Another takeaway from this show is that Kahlo knew how to pose for a camera. Her father, Guillermo Kahlo, was a well known portrait photographer in Mexico City and he taught her the rudiments of portrait poses, not to mention, no doubt, the power of photography to help forge a public image and personality. His direct, honest 1932 studio portrait of Kahlo is among the earliest works in the show.

Leon De Vos, Portrait of Frida Kahlo, 1932. Toned gelatin silver print, 14 x 11 in.

She also knew how to stage images. She was a collector of antiquities, folk pottery, retablos (religious devotional images) and indigenous jewelry, all of which makes an appearance in these photographs and in her own paintings of herself and others.

Nickolas Muray’s color photograph of the artist at home in Coyoacan for instance shows her in Mexican traditional dress holding an ancient Olmec figurine.

Muray had helped develop color film for Kodak and his color images of Kahlo on view have the depth and luminosity of old fashioned oil paintings. His color carbon print “Frida Kahlo with Magenta Rebozo ‘Classic’ 2nd Edition” from 1939 is likely the most beautiful portrait of Kahlo ever made. It is also a technical tour de force, for the process of making carbon prints requires 5 separate printing passes — one for each color. The final saturation, concentration of the colors on the paper is nothing short of exquisite.

We know from the photographs here that Kahlo collected copies of photographs of herself, which she frequently displayed in her home and her studio. Sometimes she even copied these portrait photographs of herself for paintings as in her now famous self-portrait, “Barbizon portrait”, that was inspired by a 1932 photograph of her by Leon De Vos. Today the painting belongs to the Vergel Foundation in Mexico City.

The show includes photographs by more than a dozen photographers — men and women, some of them friends and lovers, others artists or renowned photographers Edward Weston, Imogen Cunninghan, Lucienne Bloch, Leon De Vos, Manuel Alvarez Bravo and more. Everywhere she went people wanted to photograph her.

Left: Edward Weston, Portrait of Frida Kahlo / Drawing by Frida on verso, 1931. Gelatin silver print mounted on board, 3.87 x 2.75 in.  Right: Lucienne Bloch, Frida At The Barbizon Plaza Hotel, 1933. Gelatin silver print, 11.25 x 7.50 in. 

Among the highlights here is a complex 1938 portrait of Kahlo by Alvarez Bravo in which the artist sits next to a glass globe in which you can see a reflected image of the photographer. It is an obvious play on the Renaissance painting “Las Meninas” by the Spanish artist Diego Velazquez in which the artist painted himself painting the scene reflected in a back mirror.

Kahlo’s tumultuous marriage to Diego Rivera no doubt advanced her reputation in the art world but throughout her short life she remained known mostly as Rivera’s beautiful, charismatic wife. Her first and sadly only show in America was in 1938 at the Julien Levy Gallery in New York. She had a show in Paris that year that was organized by Andre Breton but in general her artwork sparked little interest.

Nickolas Muray, Frida painting 'Me & my parrots’ (21/30), 1930. Platinum print, 11 x 11 in.

Several casual and intimate photos of her in New York in the 1930s taken by Lucienne Bloch show her as happy, as hopeful and relaxed. Bloch and Kahlo first met while Rivera was painting his controversial murals at the Rockefeller Center (Bloch’s husband, an artist, was at the time assisting Rivera on the commission), they became good friends and Kahlo stayed in touch with Bloch throughout her life.

Also on view is Imogen Cunningham’s portrait of Kahlo, dressed in her traditional shawl and wearing native jewelry. It was taken in San Francisco, in 1931, while visiting the city with Rivera who was invited to paint murals for the Stock Exchange. It is an imposing, forceful portrait of female strength, the artist staring directly at the viewer.

Lucienne Bloch, Frida and Diego, with Colleagues, Viewing a Solar Eclipse on the DIA roof, 1932. Gelatin silver print, 5 x 6.75 in.

Kahlo liked to dress up for photographs and the variety and diversity of her outfits on display is impressive. Bernard Silberstein, in 1940, captured her wearing a traditional Tehuana dress set against a wall of Meso-American pottery. The dress has a hand-stitched lace hupil or large bonnet-like covering fitted over the entire top of the body.

Bernard Silberstein, Frida Kahlo Wearing Tehuana Dress, 1940. Sepia toned gelatin silver print, printed later, 17 x 14 in.

In August 1931, during Kahlo’s long stay with Rivera in Detroit where he was once again producing a celebrated mural cycle, there was an eclipse. The event is memorialized in a photograph here by Lucciene Bloch of Kahlo and Rivera viewing the event on the roof of the Detroit Institute of the Arts, at the moment the sky begins to darken. This is more a documentary image but still a charming historical momento.

There is so much history in these photographs, not just in terms of the subject matter but the interesting people who took them. There is a photograph by Tina Modotti of Kahlo attending a political march in 1929 for the Syndicate for Painters and Sculptors in Mexico City, and two small photographs of her by Edward Weston, which he gave to her in 1931. Kahlo decorated the back of both of them with abstract drawings. Even Leon Trotsky took photographs of her.

Kahlo’s life is depicted in the popular media as tortured, tragic, and often was. Here, however, in these photographs, we see beyond, even behind the myth — we see her at play, at home, in the studio, as a real person embracing life with joy.

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