"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."
The bold claim comes courtesy of "The Complete Frida Kahlo Her Paintings. Her Life. Her Story," a touring exhibition that promises unprecedented access to 123 of the late Mexican painter's artworks. Except there's one hitch. Kahlo didn't paint any of the artworks on view. Each and every one of the paintings included in the show are impressive replicas of Kahlo's masterpieces, crafted by four anonymous Chinese painters. It's a bizarre feat of mimicry commissioned by Dr. Mariella Remund and her partner Hans-Jürgen Gehrke, two art world outsiders who've invested 30 years in a passion project that no one quite understands.
Frida Kahlo, Self-Portrait Dedicated to Dr. Eloesser, 1940, Oil on masonite, 59,5 x 40 cm, Private Collection. Licensed Replica: © Banco de México Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo Museums Trust / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2008
The faux-Frida exhibition boasts over 500 "fascinating possessions," including the commissioned paintings (doubles of uber-famous artworks like "Self-Portrait with a Monkey" or "The Two Fridas"), replicas of Kahlo's personal belongings (jewelry, dresses and other accessories) and a collection of photographs capturing Kahlo and her husband Diego Rivera's life. There's even a large-scale recreation of the artist's studio and bedroom, all pieces owned and curated by Remund and Gehrke's privately owned institute, the Kunstmuseum Gehrke-Remund in Baden-Baden, Germany.
The show has caught flack for a number of reasons, namely because early banners, advertisements and catalogs described the spectacle as the "Largest Exhibition of the Life and Art of Frida Kahlo," making little mention of the fact that the works are copies. Only an 8.5 by 11 inch sheet of paper taped to the ticket counter and door mentioned the mere word "replicas."
Frida Kahlo, Self-Portrait with Monkey, 1938, Oil on masonite, 40,6 x 30,5 cm, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York, USA. Licensed Replica:© Banco de México Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo Museums Trust / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2008
Remund, a former executive at Dow Chemical who now lives in Beijing, acknowledged that her exhibition initially lacked the usual credits we see at galleries, but she sees no reason why critics and history professors should take issue with her unique marketing agenda. "We were not [worried], because we always said in all of our communication they are replicas. From our point of view, it’s written everywhere," she said to KPBS. "This is our true passion and we share it with whoever has an open mind and wants to come see it.”
Her defense of "The Complete Frida" continued, as she described her years-long relationship with the Chinese artists who took part in the project and the physical layout of the exhibition. Visitors must exit through the gift shop, she pointed out to KPBS, where a docent asks each person how they enjoyed the show. “There is the chance for anybody to ask, ‘How did you put together all these originals?’ And then we say it. That these are not originals, of course, they are replicas,” she said.
Frida Kahlo, Me and My Parrots, 1941, Oil on canvas, 82 x 62,8 cm, Collection Mr. & Mrs Harold H. Stream, New Orleans, Louisiana, USA. Licensed Replica:© Banco de México Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo Museums Trust / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2008
In an email exchange with The Huffington Post, a publicist associated with the exhibition sent a docket outlining the reason why Remand chose to present replicas. The packet, which also includes new information about the anonymous Chinese artists who created the works, reads:
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 the approximately 134 she painted... “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 to the maturity and to her last works before she died. This is only possible with replicas.
Frida Kahlo, self-portrait with necklace, 1933, Oil on metal, 34,5 x 29,5 cm, Collection Jacques & Natasha Gelman, Mexico-City, Mexico. Licensed Replica:© Banco de México Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo Museums Trust / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2008
"The Complete Frida" is currently on view at the Naval Training Center at Liberty Station in Point Loma, California until January 10, 2014. You can scroll through a selection of the images on view here. We know what Walter Benjamin would think of the exhibition -- let us know your thoughts in the comments.
UPDATE: The aforementioned publicist sent the following update in an email to The Huffington Post: "Most recently we added [clarifying language] to the inside front cover of the exhibition catalog, a stand-up sign on the counter next to the cash register and on the door that visitors use to enter into the exhibition. This week we are adding a message to a banner that is right outside the entrance to the exhibition. We also added the information to the print ads, which were initially done under a tight time-frame and mistakes happened that were quickly corrected."
Frida Kahlo, The Two Fridas, 1939, Oil on canvas, 173,5 x 173 cm, Museum of Modern Art, Mexico-City, Mexico. Licensed Replica:© Banco de México Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo Museums Trust / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2008
Frida Kahlo, Self-Portrait - Time Flies, 1929, Oil on masonite, 86 x 68 cm, Collection Antony Bryan. Licensed Replica:© Banco de México Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo Museums Trust / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2008
Frida Kahlo, The Broken Column, 1944, Oil on canvas mounted on masonite, 40 x 30,7 cm, Museum Dolores Olmedo Patino, Mexico-City, Mexico. Licensed Replica: © Banco de México Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo Museums Trust / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2008
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the exhibition was currently located in New Mexico. It has since been corrected.