Looking at the percentages of male vs. female artists represented in galleries around the world, the Edward Cella Gallery in Los Angeles is fairly typical : 73% male and 27% female (See Essay on Hyperallergic). If we turn to the auction house, the gulf is even wider. Georgia O’Keeffe’s Jimson Weed/White Flower #1, 1932, holds the record for female artists. This painting sold at Sotheby’s 2015 auction for 44.4 million dollars. Sounds impressive, right ? Guess what price tops the largest amount paid for a male artist’s work of art? If you guessed 200 million, you’re off by 100. Yes, Willem de Kooning’s Interchange, 1955, sold for 300 million in a private sale from 2015. In fact, in a list of the seventy-four top prices paid for art, all the artists are male. And, the prices range from 65.1 million—300 million. That means O’Keeffe’s great achievement doesn’t even come close to the prices garnered by her male peers. To make matters worse, most art by women sells at auction for closer to 10 million dollars. Kathryn Tully makes the obvious observation: “The link between price and value is hard to nail down” (Forbes, May 14, 2014).
Enter Frida Kahlo. Frida, along with Georigia O’Keeffe, provides some hope for the future of parity within the art world. She and Georgia are the two powerhouses within the male-dominated art arena. Within the last few years, Frida’s art or photographs of her have been featured in numerous exhibitions around the world. She’s broken important barriers since 1939 when the Louvre museum purchased her painting, The Frame. It was the first painting this prestigious institution bought by a 20th Century Mexican artist. In 2000, a United States postage stamp featured a self-portrait Frida made while living in New York. It was the first time a stamp featured a Hispanic woman. In 2006, her painting Roots, 1943, sold at Sotheby’s in New York for 5.6 million dollars. Compared to the prices I listed above, it doesn’t sound like much, but in 2006, it broke a record—the first Latin American artist to exceed 1 million dollars at auction. We don’t know exactly how Frida would fare in today’s market because very few of her paintings are sold at auction due to strict export laws in Mexico. However, based upon the operas, plays, symphonies, movies, books, poems, exhibitions, and objects inspired by Frida, I’d say she just might break out of the gender barrier in terms of auction prices.
On International Women’s Day, I have a vision of Frida dressed in a long sky blue and yellow pleated skirt with a white lace hemline topped by a red and yellow square-cut huipil blouse bursting with vibrant geometric patterns. With jewelry adorning her ears and neck and a cigarette in hand, I imagine her leading a long procession of women from around the world with colorful papel picado—cut paper decorations—strung across narrow streets.
She has moved so many people with her transformational story and art. Renée M. Schell is one poet who found inspiration in Frida’s painting, The Broken Column. I’m excited to publish it today in honor of Frida’s importance and the significant contributions of all women.
Transfiguration, after The Broken Column, Frida Kahlo
Riven with nails, my skin
has the pattern of cut paper.
Or for as long as I can remember.
Even the faded pink sheet breathes
in little stabs of breath.
Even the landscape behind me
My monkeys protect me
as they can from afar.
They want to rub the amulet
of their black fur around my neck,
to visit me
during the night when pain
at my trembling skin
after morphine wisps wear thin,
to pluck out
the roofing nails
like chocolates from a box
and rescue me
Let me gaze down on the cut pink
of juicy sandía,
the ochre-colored calabazas in their wooden crates,
the sugar skulls, the blue piñatas.
I have little to show in return.
Only a broken column, white tears.
Do it. String me across
the narrow street --
See the pattern of painstakingly
cut circles and tendrils?
I am papel picado.
Renée M. Schell’s poetry has appeared in numerous publications, including (After)Life: Poems and Stories of the Dead, Poetry on the Move, and Granny Smith Magazine. She is a freelance editor and translator from the German as well as a poetry editor for Red Wheelbarrow and the Willow Glen Poetry Project.
She will read tomorrow night (March 9, 2016) at Flash Fiction Forum. See Flash Fiction Forum
© Celia S. Stahr 2016