Big brother is not the only one watching us. The whole family of man is, thanks to social media and YouTube. We live our lives un-closeted, without boundaries, with nothing off the record. Ours is a reality in which everything hangs out and there’s no such thing as bad taste.
You can readily see this in TV commercials that hawk products for urinary, bowel and sexual dysfunction. You can see it in films with scenes of intimacy down to everyone’s orgasm and how they got there.
It’s in our headlines, too, like this one from the Huffington Post last month: “Frida Kahlo’s Love Letters Give Glimpse Into The Guarded Artist’s Private Life.”
Twenty-five letters, auctioned off at Doyle New York, written to Spanish artist Jose Bartoli while Kahlo was married to Diego Rivera, which read like this:
“My Bartoli…I don’t know how to write love letters. But I wanted to tell you that my whole being opened for you. Since I fell in love with you everything is transformed and is full of beauty…love is like an aroma, like a current, like rain. You know, my sky, you rain on me and I, like the earth, receive you.”
Bartoli saved the letters. When he died in 1995, his family put them up for sale. Why should we see such personal mail? It wasn’t meant for us to see. Yet art historian Hayden Herrera, clearly cheerleading the letters as “steamy with unbridled sensuality,” contends that “the letters offer illuminating information about some of her best-known paintings, including her 1946 Tree of Hope.”
Nice try at giving the letters relevance, Herrera. But in a letter to Kahlo’s biggest collector, Eduardo Morillo Safa, the artist that Tree of Hope was “nothing but the result of the damned operation.”
You can see what Kahlo means in the painting of two self-images – one facing death as she lies on a hospital gurney with an open wound, and the other sitting, braced for life and bearing a banner with the words from a song, “Cielito Lindo” (Tree of Hope),
As far as I can tell, the only connection between the painting and Bartoli is a letter she wrote to him a week after writing to Morillo Safa about the painting being “nothing but the result of the damned operation, saying that the picture title comes from the first line of a song that she and Bartoli favored.
Is that reason enough to dump the lot of her love letters into the public arena? Does art appreciation really depend on some back story of a picture title? Isn’t Kahlo’s utterly graphic depiction of her state of mind enough?
I don’t fault the auction house for selling the letters. They’re in business and, after all, sex sells, doesn’t it? But, unless I’m missing something, what is an art historian’s excuse for rationalizing exposure of an artist’s private life for so little a reason?
The answer is simple: Sign of the times