Life through Frida’s lens
More than 350 photographs, with 20th-century greats both behind and in front of the camera, to be restored
By Emily Sharpe. Conservation, Issue 248, July-August 2013
Published online: 05 August 2013
Bank of America Merrill Lynch last year funded the conservation of four sketches by Diego Rivera (1886-1957), including a sketch for Man at the Crossroads, the Mexican artist’s controversial mural for New York’s Rockefeller Center, which was covered up shortly after its completion because Nelson Rockefeller objected to the inclusion of an image of Lenin. This year, the bank is sponsoring a six-month project to restore 369 photographs from the 6,500-strong photographic archive of Rivera’s wife, the artist Frida Kahlo (1907-54). The archive includes photos taken by a host of well-known 20th-century photographers, such as Man Ray, Edward Weston, Henri Cartier-Bresson and Lola and Manuel Álvarez Bravo. The collection also includes images shot by Frida as well as photos taken by her father, Guillermo, who was a famous photographer in the 1930s.
The photographs, the earliest of which date to the 1880s, span more than 70 years. Kahlo and Rivera were avid photographers; the collection contains images of everything from exhibitions to holiday snaps, from shots of objects and events that inspired their work to images of family and friends. The friends of the couple captured on film include some of the leading figures of the 20th century, such as the artists David Alfaro Siqueiros, André Breton and José Clemente Orozco and the Russian Marxist revolutionary Leon Trotsky. The images form part of the collection of La Casa Azul (the Blue House), Kahlo’s former home, which was transformed in 1958 into a museum dedicated to the painter. Those earmarked for restoration require varying degrees of treatment, from cleaning to urgent structural work. The work began in June and is expected to be completed by the end of the year.
“These photos [provide] important historical evidence of Frida and Diego’s life. They enable us to understand many aspects of Frida’s personality, her family life, her relationship with Diego and friends, her political, social and sexual vision, her peculiar way of dressing and grooming, her illness and many back surgeries, her frustration at not being able to have a child and her intense social life,” says Hilda Trujillo, the director of the museum. “Each photo represents a piece of a big puzzle of Frida’s complex life.”
“Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera were not only two of the most influential figures in 20th-century and Mexican art, they were also larger-than-life individuals who, along with their circle of friends, were at the centre of the art and political movements of the time,” says Allen Blevins, the director of global art and heritage programmes at Bank of America. “These photos, when properly restored, will give art historians insight into not only the work but also the personalities of these two important artists.”
The project is one of 25 selected by Bank of America Merrill Lynch to receive funding as part of the company’s art conservation programme for 2013. The firm has sponsored 58 projects in 26 countries since the initiative was launched in 2010.
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