What Is Art?
November 25, 2013 10:16 AM   Subscribe

San Diego is buzzing with our recent art celebration of The Complete Frida, the first and only exhibition worldwide where Frida Kahlo’s paintings can be seen in one place. Some paintings, especially from Kahlo’s early years, have never before been seen. Presented by SEE Global Entertainment. Small, trivial caveat, all the paintings are reproductions done by an uncredited group of Chinese artists - a fact the promoters buried until they were recently called on it
posted by BlerpityBloop (41 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
 
How do you replicate a painting that's never been seen?
posted by Kirth Gerson at 10:26 AM on November 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


Your "a fact the promoters buried until they were recently called on it" link doesn't quite say that. It says that some people were upset that the ads didn't make it sufficiently clear that these were replicas. That's an interesting issue, but it's not quite "and they thought they could get away with it too!" The website for "The Complete Frida" does make it clear that the show is made up of replicas; was the website changed after some initial controversy or did it always, in fact, make this clear?
posted by yoink at 10:29 AM on November 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


How do you replicate a painting that's never been seen?

O.K., O.K., fair enough--but let me ask you this: how do you know I didn't replicate that painting?
posted by yoink at 10:30 AM on November 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


Sorry, I reversed up the KPBS and LaJollaLight links. All of the promotions, PR releases and advertising didn't reference they were replicas up until very recently. The show's main webpage was recently updated to reflect the replicas.
posted by BlerpityBloop at 10:31 AM on November 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


Danish art museum Arken is currently showing a Frida Kahlo exhibition, so at first I was quite puzzled by this post. ("How can the same painting be two different places at the same time?")
posted by WalkingAround at 10:34 AM on November 25, 2013


...let me ask you this: how do you know I didn't replicate that painting?

I still haven't seen it.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 10:35 AM on November 25, 2013


Serious/dumb question ... Is Kahlo's work of interest to serious art people? I find it hard to see past the intense merchandising of her work on calendars, cards and such, and have thus never paid much attention to it or thought it very interesting.
posted by jayder at 10:36 AM on November 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


How do you replicate a painting that's never been seen?

Three pounds of flax.
posted by griphus at 10:36 AM on November 25, 2013


I still haven't seen it.

I hired some Chinese dude to play you seeing it. He says it's great.
posted by yoink at 10:37 AM on November 25, 2013 [8 favorites]


Is Kahlo's work of interest to serious art people?

For what it's worth, my mother was an artist and an art professor and Kahlo was one of her favorite painters.
posted by griphus at 10:38 AM on November 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Small, trivial caveat, all the paintings are reproductions done by an uncredited group of Chinese artists - a fact the promoters buried until they were recently called on it

KAHLO REPRODUCTION EXHIBITION RAISES EYEBROWS
posted by Kabanos at 10:40 AM on November 25, 2013 [30 favorites]


Serious/dumb question ... Is Kahlo's work of interest to serious art people? I find it hard to see past the intense merchandising of her work on calendars, cards and such, and have thus never paid much attention to it or thought it very interesting.

Well, she was married to a famous artist.
posted by ReeMonster at 10:40 AM on November 25, 2013


Is Kahlo's work of interest to serious art people?

Oh my goodness, yes.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 10:44 AM on November 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


Serious/dumb question ... Is Kahlo's work of interest to serious art people?

Serious answer: yes, it is.
posted by yoink at 10:46 AM on November 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


And they would have gotten away with it too, if it weren't for you meddling kids!
posted by Outlawyr at 10:46 AM on November 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


Is Kahlo's work of interest to serious art people?

Absolutely, and completely within its own right. However, her work is also of gargantuan importance when considered within the cultural context it was created. Kahlo was not only talented, but (as ReeMonster churlishly insinuates) at the center of a cultural maelstrom that brought a ridiculous amount of exposure to her work.
posted by carsonb at 10:53 AM on November 25, 2013 [6 favorites]


jayder: I find it hard to see past the intense merchandising of her work on calendars, cards and such, and have thus never paid much attention to it or thought it very interesting.

That's the trouble with appealing art being reproduced: it becomes so omnipresent as to become banal.

The Smithsonian Magazine has a long, interesting article on her
, which opens with this line:
Frida Kahlo, who painted mostly small, intensely personal works for herself, family and friends, would likely have been amazed and amused to see what a vast audience her paintings now reach.
As to why her work is important, here's a key quote from an article titled Kahlo as Artist, Woman, Rebel:
Kahlo painted a feminine reality which makes visible so much that has remained hidden in women's lives. Although these concepts were clearly not part of Kahlo's consciousness, much of her work is a visualization of the theme that the personal is political.
That article also cites the 1983 publication of Hayden Herrera's book, Frida: A Biography of Frida Kahlo, as the source of the US interest, as it cast Kahlo as character in a popular best-selling romance novel-type story, set against meticulous historical research. If you take this as truth, Kahlo has been a person of popular culture since her US "rebirth."
posted by filthy light thief at 10:57 AM on November 25, 2013 [5 favorites]


This seems to me like an extension of one way that people related to autobiographical artists like Kahlo - we sometimes see her art primarily as an illustration of her life, rather than as art for its own sake (in other words, we turn Kahlo-the-artist into Kahlo-the-subject). If her paintings are only important because they document her life story, or her cultural context, then it makes a strange sense to display reproductions of her artwork in an exhibit about Kahlo herself.
Gonzalez has guided tours through the Kahlo exhibit and thinks it’s a great introduction to Kahlo’s life.

“It’s like a history book,” he said.
Once a cult of personality has been established it's difficult to derail.
posted by muddgirl at 11:02 AM on November 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


(Not to dismiss the fact that it's incredibly scammy for the organizers not to be perfectly, repetitively clear that these were not the original paintings - I question why they even had them reproduced in the first place, vs. just displaying photographs.)
posted by muddgirl at 11:05 AM on November 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


I find it hard to see past the intense merchandising of her work on calendars, cards and such, and have thus never paid much attention to it or thought it very interesting.

That kind of intense merchandising is true of basically every name-brand artist-- you can buy Van Gogh in every variety of knickknack and desk gear, Toulouse-Lautrec for every college dorm, Wright magazine holders, David's lower torso on boxers, Magritte plates actually I really want those, Mondrian tumblers (and cakes!) I love the cakes even more than the real things tbh ...I don't find all of them very interesting, though I do love the phenomenon. I mainly find it frustrating to be shepherded in gift shops towards a wall of Monet postcards when what I really want is a repro of a marble bust or a close-up of a relief, but so it goes.

I think I've only seen her work once, at the Frida Kahlo exhibition put on by the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 2008. There's a nice short overview, catalog blurb, and biography still up on their site. Stunning colors, really stunning. It's hard to imagine that they were able to produce reproductions for all of the paintings, especially those that are not well-known and privately held, that are really close to the originals. I think it's kind of a cool idea, like the plaster cast halls of old museum collections, and one that will probably become more common as 3D printing and textured/colored versions are developed, but you have to be honest about what you're showing.
posted by jetlagaddict at 11:16 AM on November 25, 2013 [4 favorites]


we turn Kahlo-the-artist into Kahlo-the-subject

Well, we didn't do that, she did. But so did Proust, or Wordsworth, or Kerouac, or...the list goes on. There's no contradiction in the idea that great art can be made out of the artist's autobiography.
posted by yoink at 11:17 AM on November 25, 2013


There's no contradiction in the idea that great art can be made out of the artist's autobiography.

Yes, I agree. The issue I have is when we excise the "great art" part and just look the "artist's biography" part. Some of Kahlo's work is autobiographical, but that doesn't mean that its sole purpose is to illustrate her life's story, which is what is implied when we hire people to "reproduce" her paintings as part of an exhibit.
posted by muddgirl at 11:22 AM on November 25, 2013


muddgirl: I question why they even had them reproduced in the first place, vs. just displaying photographs.

I imagine it could actually be cheaper to have a qualified, low-wage artists replicate the works than have a skilled (group of) photographer(s) accurately capture the images, and then get great prints of those paintings. On one hand, once you digitally capture the images, then you can have prints run anywhere in the world with relative ease, but there's something about a painting that photographs of paints cannot capture.

Now I really want to know more about the knock-off artists behind the reproduced pieces. Perhaps they even worked with rough prints of the art as templates, or did they actually sit in front of the originals and recreate each detail? And has anyone done a review of the originals versus the duplicates, to truly assess how the details were captured and re-created?
posted by filthy light thief at 11:23 AM on November 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


This is the only exhibition worldwide where Frida Kahlo’s paintings can be seen in one place. Some paintings, especially from Kahlo’s early years, have never before been seen.

That is the actually the first paragraph from their promotional blurb. What a couple of ambiguous and just-plain-weird sentences.
posted by beau jackson at 11:24 AM on November 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


"I imagine it could actually be cheaper to have a qualified, low-wage artists replicate the works than have a skilled (group of) photographer(s) accurately capture the images, and then get great prints of those paintings."

I thought about referencing the fact Kahlo was a staunch communist. Some in the community are arguing she would be rolling in her grave knowing an international licensing company are reproducing her works with cheap labor, but couldn't find anything other than a quote in one of the links I posted.
posted by BlerpityBloop at 11:33 AM on November 25, 2013


that doesn't mean that its sole purpose is to illustrate her life's story, which is what is implied when we hire people to "reproduce" her paintings as part of an exhibit.

I don't really see that. I think the impulse to reproduce the works of art themselves suggests that the value is seen as lying in the works of art themselves. If we thought that the value lay simply in the biography then the show would only need to present the facts of the life.

I think we're going to get more shows of this kind in the future, actually. Not so much the "anonymous Chinese artists" thing but "3D scans you can't tell from the real thing" shows. I can imagine that people will be willing to see a show of, say, 3D reproductions of Van Gogh paintings or of works too valuable or too fragile to travel from their home institutions. The desire to see such reproductions is not at all a testament to how unimportant we consider the images themselves to be but rather the reverse.
posted by yoink at 11:35 AM on November 25, 2013


What a couple of ambiguous and just-plain-weird sentences.

The best part is that based on the FAQ, at least 11 paintings will continue to never be seen.
posted by griphus at 11:41 AM on November 25, 2013


beau jackson: What a couple of ambiguous and just-plain-weird sentences.

Their website is really a hot mess. I saw a link to more information about the "master artists" who (re)created her work, so I clicked. This is the page about the The Song Zhuang Artist Community. The page was also worded weirdly, and at the end, there's the disclaimer in bold: Source: adapted from Wikipedia ... but no link.

Here's the Wikipedia page for the Songzhuang art colony, which has been flagged as being written in a promotional manner, and presented without sources, since March 2013. Neither the "sourced" page nor the original Wikipedia page have any mention of how the Master Artists re-created Kahlo's work, but given the first sentence on The Complete Kahlo's "Master Artists" page mentions that the Frida Kahlo artists live and work" in this artists community, and the later blurb about how the "like-minded free spirits congregated, living relatively poorly, though freely, escaping from the rat race and pressures of modern society," I envision an artistic version of the Foxconn-type facilities.

Here's a KPBS article with more information:
The Kahlo exhibit is the masterpiece and passion of Dr. Mariella Remund and her partner Hans-Jürgen Gehrke. Neither of them has an arts background but together they’ve put 30 years into this project.

They conceived it, hired the Chinese artists and staked their life savings on it. Why?

“Because we are crazy,” Remund said. A former top executive at Dow Chemical, Remund is tiny and wears her jet black hair in a blunt bob with bangs.

“We are crazy about Mexico and the Mexican culture. We are crazy about Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera,” she explained. “And there was a point five years ago when we decided we were ready to share our passion with anyone who is interested.”

They paid the Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo Museums Trust for the rights to copy the paintings.
griphus: The best part is that based on the FAQ, at least 11 paintings will continue to never be seen.

Well, there is at least one piece that will continue to not be seen. From the KPBS article:
It’s mentioned only once in the 48-page companion catalog, in reference to “The Wounded Table,” painted by Kahlo in 1940. The original disappeared on its way to an exhibition in Moscow in 1955. In the catalog it explains that the organizers researched the missing painting for three years before “having the painting replicated.”
Replicated from ... research.

The article has more information on how the unnamed* Chinese artists recreated the original paintings, but I'll let you read that.

*OK, one last quote from the article:
“We are so proud of our artists and what they have done. We wanted to present them on our website with their biography but they didn’t want to because they didn’t want to be known worldwide as the artists who replicated Frida Kahlo,” Remund said. “They want to be known for their own work.”
I hope for their sake, one day they are known for any of their work.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:51 AM on November 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't really see that. I think the impulse to reproduce the works of art themselves suggests that the value is seen as lying in the works of art themselves.

If the value was in the works of art themselves, then why not produce a book of photographs? Or an actual exhibit bringing together her actual works of art? A replica of a painting is not the painting (and we're not even talking about microscopically scanned and printed replicas here):
“If I had to pick a word, I would have to say it’s an uneven quality,” Velasquez explained.

...

“A painting is not only a work of art, it is also an historical document,” she said. “Embedded in it are all the hours spent by the artist producing it, the layering of the brushstroke, and all the changes that happened. It’s a whole intellectual process, not just a manual process.”
posted by muddgirl at 11:54 AM on November 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Replicated from ... research.

Oh my god someone needs to put together an exhibition of police artist sketches of witnesses who completely fabricated their statements.
posted by griphus at 11:56 AM on November 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also, from the FAQ:
Frida painted her life; her paintings are like an autobiography on canvas.

To understand her life, it is essential to be able to see all her paintings. However, exhibitions with originals by Frida are only able to show a maximum of 40 paintings of an estimated 134 she painted because:

Some of her paintings are permanently in the Blue House in Mexico and cannot leave
Some are privately owned (e.g., Madonna is a Frida Kahlo collector), and some of the owners never lend them for exhibitions
The rest are scattered throughout the world.

“The Complete Frida Kahlo” exhibition shows all the paintings, (123), for which there is a documentation in color; it allows the visitors to follow her entire life, from the very beginning as a hobby-painter through her maturity as an artist and to her last works before her death. This is only possible with replicas.
The curators have summed up my problem perfectly.
posted by muddgirl at 11:58 AM on November 25, 2013


griphus: someone needs to put together an exhibition of police artist sketches of witnesses who completely fabricated their statements

Here's a few to start the gallery, and a Tumblr with more.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:00 PM on November 25, 2013


OK, another gem from the FAQ:
Can I take photos of the exhibit?

We are sorry, but photography is not allowed within the exhibit.
posted by muddgirl at 12:04 PM on November 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


But can I show up with paints, canvas, easel, etc. and paint my own copy?
posted by griphus at 12:19 PM on November 25, 2013


I hired some Chinese dude to play you seeing it. He says it's great.

Well, OK, then.

It wasn't Sammo Hung, was it?
posted by Kirth Gerson at 12:19 PM on November 25, 2013


The 'performance' part is they secretly hired the same Chinese master painters to build their website!
posted by edgeways at 2:17 PM on November 25, 2013


KAHLO REPRODUCTION EXHIBITION RAISES EYEBROW. FTFY
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 4:43 PM on November 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


If the value was in the works of art themselves, then why not produce a book of photographs?

Because we all know that photographs don't capture many of the visual properties of oil paintings. I mean, there are all kinds of reasons to be leery of this project but you surely aren't implying that hiring artisans to painstakingly craft full-scale reproductions of Kahlo's works was somehow the cheap alternative to throwing up a bunch of photos? It's clear that the curators' intent is to give you an experience that is more like seeing the real things than photographic reproduction can provide. And that impulse, in turn, shows that they think the art objects themselves and their specific visual qualities are important, not simply the artist's biography.
posted by yoink at 9:23 AM on November 27, 2013


Given that an unspecified number of the paintings were reconstructed from photographs, I would be greatly surprised if they could capture the visual and tactile properties of the originals. Can a copy of a copy be more like the real thing than the original copy?
posted by muddgirl at 9:30 AM on November 27, 2013


Also note that I never claimed it was done to be either cheap or spendthrift - I am still honestly confused as to why the would choose to put on an exhibit in this manner, save the idea that a replica of an artist's painting is the same thing as a replica of a piece of clothing they wore on an easel they painted on.
posted by muddgirl at 9:34 AM on November 27, 2013


Given that an unspecified number of the paintings were reconstructed from photographs, I would be greatly surprised if they could capture the visual and tactile properties of the originals.

But it is clear that the curators do believe (and with at least some plausible arguments on their side) that the reproductions so produced get you closer to the experience of the 'real thing' than simply printing up copies of the photographs would do. No matter which way you slice it it is clear that they think the original art works are significant works of art that merit sustained attention to their specific aesthetic qualities and not simply as records of the artist's life. If they thought the paintings were aesthetically insignificant they would be far more likely to throw up a bunch of photographic reproductions than attempt to craft objects that--in their view, at least--come as close as possible to capturing the specific aesthetic qualities of the originals.

And the same is true for visitors to the show--whether or not they understand the works are reproductions. The only reason you'd go to a show like this is because you think seeing the works that Frida Kahlo herself produced is important. Qua "narrative of the life" or qua "comment on the life" you might as well stick with reproductions online or in a book. If you pay good money to see this show it is because you think that she created works of art which in themselves merit our attention and sustained observation. And that is true if you think you're seeing the Real Things and just as true if you think you're seeing the closest possible approximation to the Real Things currently available.
posted by yoink at 10:03 AM on November 27, 2013


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