Thu, Jul 15, 2004 - Page 16 News List

Frida Kahlo's name becomes a trademark


Visitors look at a painting of Frida Kahlo in the Blue House museum in Coyoacan, Mexico City.


Mexico this week marks the 50th anniversary of Frida Kahlo's death with a series of retrospectives but also with the launching of a line of products bearing the name of the iconic, communist painter.

A feminist icon and a close friend of Russian communist leader Leon Trotsky during her lifetime, Kahlo, who died on July 13, 1954, has now fallen prey to what critics decry as crass commercialism.

To mark the anniversary, her niece Isolda Pinedo Kahlo will launch this week the "Frida Kahlo" line, that includes shawls, jewelry and sunglasses.

Prices start at US$100. The most Frida ever got for a painting was US$300.

The Kahlo family, which did not inherit the artist's works, has registered the name and signature of the painter as a trademark.

"The family has the right to use the name commercially," said Alejandro Trad, who is Pinedo Kahlo's business representative.

But Pinedo Kahlo has no rights to the paintings, which Frida's husband, muralist Diego Rivera, had donated to a foundation.

Further stirring controversy Pinedo Kahlo, 75, is set to publish a book that suggests Rivera helped Frida die.

"We reveal a great family secret," says Maria de Anda, the artist's great niece who compiled the book Frida Intima -- Spanish for "intimate Frida."

An anguished painter who suffered intense physical pain after being stricken by polio and severely wounded in a bus crash, Frida spent the last hours of her life in a semi-comatose state caused by pain-killers, according to art critic and biographer Raquel Tibol.

Her physical pain and her inability to have children were common themes in her paintings, many of which were shocking, bloody self-portraits.

After her death, Frida became "first a legend, then a myth, and now a cult figure," Hayden Herrera wrote in a 1992 biography of the Mexican artist.

The commercialization of Frida, whose images adorn calenders and greeting cards and whose tragic and turbulent life was recounted in a 2002 Hollywood movie, has outraged some members of her family.

"It is surprising to see her transformed into a commercial trademark," said photographer Cristina Kahlo, a niece of Frida, who describes the artist as "a fierce communist."

"In more than 20 years of being involved in culture, I have never seen an artist becoming a trademark," she said.

Tibol also expressed outrage over the commercial use of the rebellious artist's name.

"Anything that falls into Isolda's hands become a question of money, of great vulgarity," Tibol said.

Rivera's grandson Juan Coronel said it was a good thing the Frida family did not inherit the artist's works.

"Had it not been for Diego, the Frida paintings that are in Mexico would have been sold abroad," said Coronel, who will curate one of several anniversary exhibitions that opens this week in Mexico City.

In all, five exhibitions, several conferences, movie screenings and at least four new books will mark the half-century since Frida died of pneumonia just a few days after her 47th birthday.

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