Arts & Entertainment

Kahlo’s “Diego y yo” on display after 25 years, creating furor in Argentina

By Veronica Dalto

Buenos Aires, Aug 31 (EFE).- Frida Kahlo’s “Diego y yo” (Diego and I), the painting that set a record for highest auction price for a Latin American work, is creating a furor in Buenos Aires, where thousands of people in recent days have flocked to see the unique self-portrait, which for years remained hidden from the eyes of the general public.

About 12,000 people went to the Latin American Art Museum of Buenos Aires (Malba) in the first week of exhibition of the piece symbolizing the tempestuous relationship between Kahlo (1907-1954) and her husband, the celebrated Mexican muralist Diego Rivera (1886-1957).

In Kahlo’s self-portrait Rivera’s image is seen on her forehead, and he – in turn – possesses a third eye, an element representing the continuous presence of her husband in her mind, along with her obsession and suffering.

The work is being shown publicly for the first time in Argentina in more than 25 years, having been kept off the international exhibition circuit and last being placed on public display in 1998.

It had been held in a private collection in Texas until the 2021 auction organized by Sotheby’s in New York, where it was purchased by Argentine businessman Eduardo Costantini.

A well-known art collector and the founder of the Malba, Costantini bought “Diego y yo” for his private collection for $34.9 million, making the work the most expensive of any Latin American artist ever sold at auction.

In a conversation with EFE, Costantini said he felt “very motivated and very happy” with the work’s exhibition, “above all because of the public’s response and the (number of) people who are anxious to see the work,” which will be on display until September 2023 at the Malba.

“It’s what we’ve always wanted: for the museum to have life, to buzz,” Costantini added.

Kahlo’s self-portrait broke several records at the New York auction last November, quadrupling the prior top price for another of her works which brought $8 million in 2016 and also shattering the landmark price set for Rivera’s 1932 work “The Rivals.”

“I really like sharing works with people. The most important thing about collecting is sharing, it’s the public dimension of a work of art. It takes it to another level,” Costantini said.

Visitors to the museum, many of them tourists, wait in a long line to enter the space created in which to display Kahlo’s work, where a large black-and-white photo of the artist invites people to gather around it in a darkened area.

Along with “Diego y yo” – the last self-portrait painted by Kahlo in 1949 before her death five years later – her 1942 work titled “Autorretrato con chango y loro” (Self-portrait with Monkey and Parrot) is also on display.

Before getting to the paintings themselves, museum visitors pass by photos from Kahlo’s childhood taken by her father, showing her with friends, along with letters written by her, thus allowing people to approach her intimate world. Also on display is a “huipil,” a type of square-cut blouse that she used to wear.

But the visitors generally hurry to her self-portrait – which is a powerful work even though it measures just 30 centimeters high by 22.4 wide (11.8 x 8.8 inches) – to take selfies until the museum guards warn them to keep moving.

“I liked it a lot,” history student Paula Rojas told EFE. “The idea of seeing an original up so close really has an impact,” she said, adding that she also liked seeing “the day-to-day activities” of the artist in the photos.

Upon passing the paintings, the public can examine more photos of Kahlo painting, receiving treatment in the hospital and lying in her casket, along with others providing testimony to the love between her and Rivera that close out the intimate experience with the painter.

“We were interested in having the public be able to have an intimate connection with the two works,” Malba’s head curator, Maria Amalia Garcia, told EFE.

The darkness of the work “creates a more intimate atmosphere, quieter, where a certain calmness can be felt,” she said.

“Diego y yo” is the highlight of the “Tercer ojo” (Third eye) exhibit, an exposition that brings together more than 240 works of Latin American art in a collection that links Malba’s permanent holdings with Costantini’s personal collection.

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