Frida Kahlo set a new record for Latin American art: her last self-portrait, “Diego y Yo”, was sold for $34.9 million at Sotheby’s Modern Art Evening Sale on the 16th of November, making it the most expensive Latin American artwork sold at an auction. This more than tripled the record set by Diego Rivera, Frida’s husband, with “The Rivals”, sold for $9.7 million in 2018.
It's not the first time "Diego y yo" has made history: when the painting was sold for $1.4 million in 1990, Kahlo became the first Latin American artist to surpass the $1 million mark during a sale.
Another important milestone was achieved during this auction: it was the first time that Latin American art broke the 10 million dollars mark.
The painting was purchased by the Argentinian collector Eduardo Costantini, a real estate developer and philanthropist, fond supporter of Latin American art, and founder of Malba – Museum of Latin American Art – in Buenos Aires.
The oil painting depicts Frida with three tears flowing from her eyes, her hair wrapped around her neck almost strangling her, and a portrait of her husband bearing a third eye embedded above her brow.
At the time she created the artwork, in 1949, rumors were circulating about Rivera having an affair with her friend and actress Maria Félix (Rivera painted a portrait of a barely clothed Félix in that same year). Their relationship had always been affected by extramarital relationships on both sides – which led to the couple divorcing in 1939, only to be remarried the following year. Frida often joked about the frequent adultery they both conducted, but, despite this, the portrait is widely recognized as Kahlo’s expression of emotional anguish over Rivera’s infidelity: the position of her husband’s portrait on her forehead reflects how he and their relationship dominated her mind.
The growing popularity of Kahlo’s artwork is an example of how the art world is beginning to think more critically about worth and representation in auctions: “To offer it in our Modern Evening Sale in November heralds the recent expansion of the Modern category to include greater representation of underrepresented artists, notably women artists, and rethink how they have historically been valued at auction”, Sotheby’s Chairman Brooke Lampley said in a statement.
The reason why her image is so fresh and important at the present day is that she still connects with people on many different levels. Disability, the struggle of being a woman or having a very difficult relationship are amongst her various and articulated themes.
Also, Kahlo managed to validate the outward display of pains and frustrations by women without being labeled as hysterical or insane: for this reason, it became essential for women artists to have such a role model, and this is just another example of the importance of the acknowledgment of this artist in the artistic and market scene.