A letter, purportedly from Kahlo to husband Diego Rivera, calls him the “toad of (her) soul,” with a corresponding drawing. (Barbara Levine, Princeton Architectural Press

Policing the legacy of artists can be a tough business. Nowhere is it tougher than in Mexico, where the magnetic, self-mythologizing painter Frida Kahlo (1907-54) shot from relative obscurity to iconic status only in the last quarter-century.

Now, a festering dispute over a little-known archive of ephemera attributed to Kahlo has erupted into open warfare. Despite the tantalizing possibility that some or maybe even all the material is authentic, a sharp line has been drawn in the art historical sand.

The story is marked by startling intimidation tactics that seem more a part of Tony Soprano’s world than the genteel environs of scholarly argument. Aggressive bullying by Kahlo-establishment figures is so strange that it suggests something bigger: A fading ancient regime in Mexico might be coming to an end.


Christopher Knight
Los Angeles Times