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Some say a disputed Frida Kahlo archive is genuine

September 6, 2009 | 11:30 am

In the Arts & Books section of Sunday's newspaper, I have a story about a bizarre (if revealing) dispute over an archive of ephemera and memorabilia attributed to the iconic Mexican artist Frida Kahlo (1907-1954). More than a dozen prominent people have claimed the archive is a fake, even though none of them has seen it.

Frida Kahlo 007a Like I said, bizarre. The archive's owners, Leticia Fernandez and Carlos Noyola, haven't even made a definitive claim that the 1,200-piece archive did in fact belong to Kahlo -- although their initial research certainly leads them in that direction. That's why they acquired it in 2004.

Several notable artists who lived and worked with Kahlo and her husband, famed muralist Diego Rivera, have examined it. Arturo Bustos, Arturo Estrada and Rina Lazo are convinced of its authenticity, and they have attested as much.

Javier Vazquez Negrete is a scientist called in during the 2007 Kahlo centennial exhibition by Mexico's National Institute of Fine Arts to do pigment-sample examinations for a painting challenged as a fake; his analysis affirmed that it appeared genuine, and his assessment has been widely accepted. He dates the paint in 10 small archive pictures to the 1940s. Nobody was forging Kahlo back then, long before her work had monetary value. The scientist also says the paint in Kahlo signatures he examined is integral to the works, not a later addition.

And Juan Rogelio Abraham Dergal, a graphologist -- aka handwriting expert -- accredited by Mexico's Superior Court was given 10 letters from the archive to examine. He compared the writing with that in a control document, a  Kahlo diary published in 1995 and universally accepted as authentic. His verdict: The "same individual, in this case the person whose handwriting we are analyzing, was present in the writing of these letters as well as the control document."

These notarized testimonials and studies are kept in a big safe in the back room of the Noyolas' gallery. They aren't definitive, but they're certainly significant -- and well worth a follow-up.

They are also far more convincing than blind denunciations from people who've never laid eyes on the objects. British art critic Jonathan Jones, writing in the Guardian recently, had some choice observations about the "poisonous attitude" of those who have been busily denouncing the purported Kahlo archive. Jones' column is worth a look.

You can find my story on the Kahlo dispute here. Additional photographs of the archive are here.

-- Christopher Knight

Photo: A small untitled painting from the disputed archive, attributed to Frida Kahlo. Credit: Christopher Knight / Los Angeles Times