A good many years ago, a lawyer friend in California was asked by Governor Brown to form a commission to study the problems of sexual minorities and to issue a report. My friend drew up the list of prospective members with great care, so as to achieve a group balanced according to gender, ethnicity, and sexual orientation. Even so, the list failed fully to live up to expectations. “Have you got a handicapped black lesbian?” asked the anxious state flunky who was overseeing the operation. “Well,” my friend replied, “we have the black lesbian and the handicapping can be arranged.”
The Mexican painter Frida Kahlo would make the finest candidate for such a commission that one could imagine. Score one point for being Hispanic, another for bisexuality. A woman, she was Jewish on her father’s side. Abused by her husband, she was a llfe-long cripple. The only problem was that she was dead. Yet to judge by the hysterical adulation in these last years, that might be an asset too.
Not surprisingly, Mexicans have embraced Kahlo, though (not I think) until well after the steamroller started in the US. Currently, the centennial of her birth is being marked by a big exhibition in the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City.
The only problem with all this is that Frida Kahlo was not a good artist. As Virgil Elliott has remarked: “Frida Kahlo could not paint worth squat. She was a primitive. A primitive is someone who knows next to nothing about painting, but tries anyway. She was an accessory to Diego Rivera. . . The concept of greatness is demeaned when unworthy people are called great. It cheats those who were truly great of their rightful distinction.”
In fact Frieda Kahlo was little more than a Sunday painter, whose hobby was encouraged by her famous husband Diego Rivera as a distraction while he pursued affairs with other women. Virtually the only subject of her monotonous, formulaic efforts was herself.
Of course greatness is decried by egalitarians and some feminists. We are not supposed to make any rankings. Or if we do make them, they must reflect the “total achievement of the individual. What is Kahlo’s achievement? She was an overprivileged narcissist with very poor political judgment.
An associate of Leon Trotsky, she was a knee-jerk leftist and yankee-hater. Virtually the only books I saw in her fancy house in the Mexico City suburb of Coyoacan, were Marxist tracts (in English) items that would not pass muster in sophisticated leftist circles north of the border.
If admirers of Frida Kahlo are not yet outraged, I have a limerick for them, contributed by a friend.
There was an old dauber, Kahlo
Whose oeuvre was decidedly malo.
Sight after sight,
Try as we might,
This dreck we really can’t swallow.