Perhaps no other question, made up of only three words, can confound an audience as well as this: What is art? The idea of an artist, as opposed to an artisan, is a recent convention and even newer still the notion of art for the sake of art. For centuries, art has carried utilitarian purposes – the murals of a Roman villa, the altarpiece of a church, the portrait painting.
In the 20th century new ideas of what could be counted as art emerged with the conception of the readymade. Coined by French Dada artist Marcel Duchamp, the readymade describes artwork made from already manufactured objects. Since his seminal Bicycle Wheel in 1913, a wheel mounted in a stool, artists have turned to already manufactured objects to create art. From Duchamp’s urinal to Tracey Emin’s unmade bed, the readymade has challenged our notions of what art is while providing layered meanings to the artwork.
With this in mind, we turn to Frida Kahlo’s corset. It is not merely an artifact of her life but a fully-fledged objet d’art. It is her personal cast which she transformed into a painted sculpture. She wore these plaster corsets as her spine was too weak to support itself due to the bus accident in which she was gravely injured at the age of nineteen. During her recovery, she picked up painting, her salvation from the pain and surgeries she would endure for the rest of her life. With an object this intimate and crucial, it is natural that she transformed them into expressions of herself. She covered this piece in her own beliefs and symbols, exploding with her vocabulary of color. Thus, the cast supported Kahlo, physically and metaphorically, as a vessel through which she could channel her voice.
(from left:) Marcel Duchamp, “Bicycle Wheel”, 1951 (third version, after lost original of 1913), Metal wheel mounted on painted wood stool. 51 x 25 x 16 ½ in. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. / Tracey Emin, “My Bed”, 1998
Installation image of “Frida Kahlo: Making Herself Up” at the Victoria and Albert Museum, 2018
(from left): Frida Kahlo’s corset / Frida Kahlo painting one of her corsets
Recent exhibitions such as Frida Kahlo: Making Her Self Up demonstrated that Kahlo’s clothing and outerwear were ways through which she could craft and exert her identity. Long before artists like Gilbert and George or Grayson Perry constructed their identity through clothing, Kahlo understood the power of her image. The corset has an added layer of power as she specifically painted it with symbols important to her including the politically potent hammer and sickle.
As fellow Mexican artist, Gabriel Orozco commented on his own readymade, “it was a combination between disappointment and amusement. Between surprise and skepticism.” There sits a tension between the viewer and the readymade. With Frida’s corset, the most compelling aspect of it as a readymade is that it surrounds a negative space that was once occupied by Kahlo. We are left to grapple with a practical item whose outline hints at the physical body of Frida Kahlo and through painting its surface, she has left her metaphorical spirit. In transforming a functional and necessary object, Kahlo joined a lineage of readymade artists.Inquire
ProvenanceAcquired from the artist
Francisco González de la Fuente, La Granja, by descent
Jesús González Vaquero
By bequest to Private Collection, Switzerland
Artemundi Global Fund
Private Collection, Bruxelles
ExhibitionGalerías “La Granja” formerly the site of the Santa Clara Convent, property of “Don Paco” (Francisco González de la Fuente)
Mexico City, Mexico, Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes, Frida Kahlo, 1907-2007. Homenaje Nacional, June 13 - August 19, 2007
Mexico City, Mexico, Banco Nacional de Méxi...More...co y Fomento Cultural Banamex, Palacio de Iturbide, La Mirada de un Anticuario, 2007
Berlin, Germany, Martin Gropius-Bau, Frida Kahlo Retrospektive, April 30 – August 9, 2010; this exhibition later traveled to Vienna, Kunstforum Wien, September 1 – December 5, 2010
Ontario, Canada, Art Gallery of Ontario, Frida & Diego: Passion, Politics and Painting, October 20, 2012 – January 20, 2013; this exhibition later traveled to Atlanta, High Museum of Art, February 14 - May 12, 2013
Rome, Italy, Quirinale, Palaexpo, Frida Kahlo, March 20th - August 31, 2014
Genova, Italy, Palazzo Ducale, Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, September 20, 2014 - February 8, 2015
New York, USA, Throckmorton Fine Art, Mirror Mirror...Portraits of Frida Kahlo, May 21 - September 12, 2015
Milan, Italy, Museum of Cultures (MUDEC), Frida Kahlo. Beyond the Myth, February 1 - June 3, 2018 (loan processed and cancelled for museum’s lack of budget)
London, United Kingdom, Victoria & Albert Museum, Frida Kahlo: Making Herself Up, June 16 – November 18, 2018
New York, USA, Brooklyn Museum, Frida Kahlo: Appearances Can Be Deceiving, February 8, 2019 – May 12, 2019
San Francisco, USA, De Young Museum, Frida Kahlo: Appearances Can Be Deceiving, September 25, 2020- May 2, 2021
LiteratureFlores, Caballero R. El Ropero de Frida. México: Zweig Editoras, 2007. p. 48. Print Fuentes, Carlos. National Homage 1907-2007. R.M. Editorial, 2008. Print
Garduño, A., González Vaquero, J. La Mirada de un Anticuario. México: Fomento Cultural
Banamex, 2007, p. 18. Print
Grimberg, Kettenmann, Prignitz-Poda, Helga. Frida Kahlo: Das Gesamtwerk. Frankfurt: Verl
Neue Kritik, 1988, No. 271. p. 229. Print
Grimberg, Salomon. Frida Kahlo. North Dighton: World Publications Group, Inc. 2006. p. 32. Print
Herrera, Hayden. Frida Kahlo: Las Pinturas (1986). México: Diana, 1986 and 2005, pp. 180, 197. Print
Kettenmann, Andrea, and Karen Williams. Frida Kahlo 1907-1954: Pain and Passion, 2016.
Laidlaw, Jill A. Frida Kahlo, Barcelona: Blume, 2004, p. 38. Print
Martínez, and Vidal S. Frida Kahlo - Fashion as the Art of Being. 2016. Print (cover and
Monsiváis, Carlos. Frida Kahlo, Una Vida, Una Obra. México: Ediciones ERA, Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes, 1992, pp. 46, 167. Print
Phillips, Olmedo C., Richard Moszka, and Fox L. Scott. Frida Kahlo: Un Homenaje. México: Museo Dolores Olmedo Patiño, 2004. Print
Prignitz-Poda, Helga. Frida Kahlo e Diego Riera. Milano: Skira, 2014, cat. 252, pp. 146, 265.
Prignitz-Poda, Helga. Frida Kahlo: Retrospektive. Munchen: Prestel, 2010, cat. 158, pp. 53. Print
Prignitz-Poda, Helga. Frida Kahlo: Retrospective. Munchen: Prestel, 2010, cat. 158, pp. 53. Print
Tuer, Dot, Elliott King. Frida & Diego: Passion, Politics and Painting. Art Gallery of Ontario.
2012. p. 77. Print
Walker, Katri. Frida Kahlo: Appearances Can Be Deceiving. San Francisco: De Young
Museum, 2020. Print
Wilcox, Claire, and Circe Henestrosa. Frida Kahlo: Making Herself Up. 2018. pp. 66-83. Print
Zamora, Martha. Frida, El Pincel de la Angustia. México: Marta Zamora, 1987 and 2007, p. 109. Print
Zamora, Martha. Frida Kahlo: The Brush of Anguish. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1990, pp. 119, 127. Print.
Kahlo, F., In Lozano, L.-M., & Taschen, B. (2021). Frida Kahlo: The complete paintings.