FRIDA KAHLO: Portraits of an Icon

Frida Kahlo, Author, Margaret Hooks, Author, Sylvie Aubenas, Photographer . Turner $65 (152p) ISBN 978-84-7506-543-4

This is an entire book of photographic portraits of Kahlo, not paintings by Kahlo. And she is, from page to page, fascinating. The photographs themselves are beautiful. Sometimes sepia-toned and sometimes in grays, they are given full, sumptuous, captionless pages, and are expertly printed. Kahlo, the artist and self-proclaimed "great concealer," stares at the viewer, challenging or smug, flirtatious or sad—and always blazingly smart. Her work features in some of the backgrounds, as does artwork by Picasso or her spouse Diego Rivera. Often she holds an animal (a rabbit, a dog, a bird) like an attribute, appearing like a saint in a medieval icon painting. An array of pioneering photographers from the beginning of the 20th century made her portrait: Imogen Cunningham, Edward Weston, Manuel Álvarez Bravo, as did her lover Nickolas Murray, and her father, Guillermo Kahlo. Hooks (Tina Modotti: Radical Photographer) has assembled this grouping from the collection of the gallerist Spencer Throckmorton. The images begin with the round-faced four-year-old and end with Kahlo emaciated, posed on her deathbed. In between, it seems that few of these images were completely untouched by Kahlo herself. Her choice of clothing (headdresses or pants, or, in one case, a corset with a hammer and sickle) speaks as loudly of her personality as her steady eyes. Hooks describes how Kahlo's debilitating physical pain may have concealed her vivacious personality in some of these photographs "beneath a tight mask but her eyes seek out the viewer with a gaze that continues to challenge and captivate." Kahlo, it seems, was hardly a passive subject, leaving behind her own carefully crafted legacy as an icon. (Apr.)

Forecast:With Salma Hayek's biopic Frida either still in theaters or hitting DVD around the time of this book's release, a display that includes this book, books of Kahlo's own work and that of Diego Rivera and even the mass market bio Salma could tap movie-generated interest.

Reviewed on: 02/24/2003
Release date: 01/01/2003
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