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Disputed Frida Kahlo archive may be authentic, Mexican court rules

June 9, 2011 |  2:35 pm

Frida Kahlo 004a Remember that large, ad hoc collection of Frida Kahlo ephemera that caused a furor when it was revealed two summers ago? A breathless story in the online Art Newspaper reported heated claims that the previously unknown cache was fake. The charges were made by a dozen American and Mexican art dealers, critics and historians, all of whom share a vested interest in Kahlo's robust market and the publishing business around it.

Now a Mexican court has ruled that opponents have failed to prove their claim that the collection is bogus.

On Wednesday, newspapers in Mexico reported (links in Spanish) that the collection's owners were actively considering exhibition options, thanks to the previously unreported ruling in the court case.

In August 2009, the complainants issued a letter to the media and to Mexican culture officials declaring that “all of the documents and works in [the collection] are fakes.” The trove includes 16 small oil paintings, 23 watercolors and pastels, 59 notebook pages (diary entries, recipes, etc.), 73 anatomical studies (some dated prior to Kahlo's disfiguring 1925 trolley accident), 128 pencil and crayon drawings, 129 illustrated prose-poems, and 230 letters to Carlos Pellicer, the Modernist poet and Frida's close confidant, many adorned with sketches. Mostly it's ephemera, including hotel bills, photographs, clothing and receipts for sales of Diego Rivera paintings.

What the Art Newspaper did not report was that none of those objecting had actually laid eyes on the Kahlo material they were disputing. The protests seemed like they may have been designed to muddy the waters, tainting the collection before it went public.

Apparently opponents were acting at the behest of the Bank of Mexico and the Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo Museum Trust, which controls many of the artists' valuable copyrights. Receiving copyright permission from the trust for reproductions is essential to scholars and art merchants.

The bank and the trust have also authorized oil reproductions of many of Kahlo's most famous paintings for a commercial display in the resort town of Baden-Baden, Germany, birthplace of the painter's father, as well as for Kahlo-themed jewelry, clothing, shoes and other souvenirs. They sued in Mexican courts to prevent the newly discovered archive's owners, Carlos and Leticia Noyola, from publicly displaying their material.

The attorney general's office in Mexico City released the ruling in August but the court decision had not been reported until now. In wake of the ruling, the Noyolas filed ownership papers for the material in November with Mexico's Public Registry of Copyrights.

In an email confirming the published reports, Carlos Noyola said he was also considering legal action against the complainants.

The court did not rule on the collection's authenticity, saying only that the bank and the trust had failed to prove that it was counterfeit. The Noyolas are respected, longtime antiquarians and art dealers from Monterrey, Mexico, who acquired the 1,200-piece archive in 2004. They have always expressed their faith in its legitimacy, while also offering to make the trove available for scholarly examination.

None of the complainants, who have now been embarrassed by the court's decision, took them up on the offer.

ALSO:

Kansas FIghting over Frida Kahlo

Kansas governor eliminates state's arts funding

Critic's Notebook: The real controversy in MOCA's 'Art in the Streets'

 

-- Christopher Knight

@twitter.com/KnightLAT

Photo: Pieces from the disputed Frida Kahlo archive. Credit: Christopher Knight / Los Angeles Times

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