A self-portrait by Frida Kahlo, an artist known for her raw emotional intensity, sold for $34.9 million at Sotheby’s on Tuesday night, setting an auction benchmark for the most expensive artwork by a Latin American artist.
Completed five years before her death in 1954, the oil painting, “Diego and I,” is one of Kahlo’s final self-portraits and an example of the unsettling intimacy that has attracted collectors to her paintings. The work offers a window into her turbulent marriage with the Mexican muralist Diego Rivera, who is depicted in it just above the artist’s tearful eyes.
In setting a new high for a Latin American artist at auction, Kahlo surpassed a benchmark set by Rivera in 2018, when one of his paintings sold at auction for $9.76 million — or the equivalent of $10.75 million today, accounting for inflation.
A Sotheby’s spokesman identified painting’s buyer as Eduardo F. Costantini, the founder of a museum in Buenos Aires. The work was bought for his private collection. The seller was not identified by the spokesperson.
The winning bid for $34.9 million after fees was taken by Anna Di Stasi, Sotheby’s director of Latin American art. A big sale had been assured even before the auction started because Sotheby’s had accepted both a guarantee and an irrevocable bid, meaning that a third party had already placed a bid that it could not withdraw.
Referring to “Diego and I,” Adriana Zavala, who curated a 2015 Kahlo exhibition at the New York Botanical Garden, said, “This is an important late work from a period where her physical suffering had intensified and her painting became erratic.”
Ms. Zavala added, “She looks less polished and poised.”
Kahlo, who was a Mexican-born artist, was born in Mexico City in 1907. She began painting in 1926, after she had suffered chronic pain from a bus accident. She created rich iconography, combining violence and vulnerability in ways which often shocked viewers. She died at 47.
“It’s a museum-quality piece,” Brooke Lampley, Sotheby’s chairman and worldwide head of global fine art sales, said of “Diego and I.” She added that cultural institutions had expressed interest in the artwork but that demand from private collectors had been high. “Frida is now on the wish list of collectors who collect great masterpieces of modern art.”
The last time “Diego and I” was sold at Sotheby’s was in 1990, when it became the first work by a Latin American artist to sell for more than $1 million. The value of Kahlo’s paintings has increased substantially since the 1980s, when one of her portraits sold for $85,000. Some art historians attribute this price rise to the ever-distributed nature of her paintings.
“Frida is becoming one of the most popular artists in the world,” said Gregorio Luke, the former director of the Museum of Latin American Art in California. He explained that Mexican laws prohibit the sale of famous 19th-century and 20th-century artists from within Mexico. “So the price is the result of massive pent-up interest in the artist and very little inventory,” he said. “There are probably less than 20 to 30 paintings of hers on the market.”
Some admirers watching the auction regarded Kahlo’s ability to surpass her husband’s record as a sign of the times. Jorge Daniel Veneciano is the senior curator at Los Angeles’ Lucas Museum of Narrative Art. He explained that it is often the woman who is forgotten when married artists couples are in the spotlight. “In terms of gender politics, this is a good thing,” Mr. Veneciano said. “Now we might say that Diego Rivera is the husband of Frida Kahlo, because she is outshining him.”
Source: NY Times