THE NEW YORK TIMES

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FRIDA KAHLO SUITCASES
Frida Kahlo expressed masochistic love for her philandering husband, Diego Rivera, not only by incorporating his image into her self-portraits but also by obsessively monitoring his tastes in food. In her recipe books, which turned up a few years ago at a reclusive collector’s home in Mexico City, Kahlo scribbled notes about which desserts and monkey brain dishes Rivera would eat “with great gluttony,” and how he would paw through tortillas on the table at Christmas and make them “simply disgusting.” She imagined a love potion that might tether him to her: concocted from wormseed twigs and ground-up toads, it would take effect after a “serenade during a night of an eternal moon.” Carlos and Leticia Noyola, antiques dealers in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, bought the Kahlo archive four years ago, along with suitcases and chipped lacquered boxes painted with Rivera and Kahlo’s names. The trove also contains Kahlo’s embroidered blouses, coral jewelry, lottery tickets, hotel receipts, taxidermied hummingbirds and a French medical textbook about amputation. “I am only a circus spectacle,” Kahlo wrote in the book’s margins, probably soon after her gangrenous lower right leg was removed in 1953. The Noyolas have collaborated with Barbara Levine, a photography curator in San Miguel de Allende, on a book about the collection of more than 1,200 items, “Finding Frida Kahlo: Diaries, Letters, Recipes, Notes, Sketches, Stuffed Birds, and Other Newly Discovered Keepsakes” (written with Stephen Jaycox and due this fall from Princeton Architectural Press). It shows the clutter that the Noyolas acquired, although the couple now keep the artifacts in neat vitrines and binders at their store, La Buhardilla (the Attic). Ms. Levine set out to document how everything looked when she first stopped by La Buhardilla last year. “I knew the material would become more formalized, sorted and classified, and this amazing landscape would not remain intact for very long,” she said in a recent phone interview. “I wanted people to experience the immediacy of the lifting of the lid, the looking into the case, the stories that shake loose as you unpack. It’s a question we can all relate to: What material universe do we leave behind by accident? What would happen if a stranger opened the boxes we all keep under the bed, or in shoe boxes up in the closet?” The Noyolas bought the collection from a lawyer who lived behind double sets of gates. “The house was like a bunker,” protected by 200 dogs, and “everything was dirty, dusty and full of fungus,” the Noyolas explain in an interview with Ms. Levine in the book, adding that “we wish him to remain nameless.” The lawyer told the Noyolas that he purchased the artifacts in 1979 from a woodcarver who had been friends with the Riveras. (The dealers have since verified the story with scholars.) Kahlo bartered her pictures and trinkets for the craftsman’s picture frames, and just before her death in 1954 she handed him papers marked, “Personal Archive for my private life.” The Noyolas display the objects “in a guarded and restrained area,” they wrote in an e-mail message. “Curators, investigators, dealers, collectors, etc.,” can make appointments to browse but must be content with handling photocopies of the papers, not fragile originals. “At the moment the collection is not for sale,” they added. “Its economic value has not been quantified.” An institution or private collector could persuade them to part with it, but only if Kahlo’s suitcases stay together: “It would have to be sold in its entirety.”
CERAMIC VESSEL TROVE
Sidney Swidler, a retired architect in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., wants to keep his thousands of ceramic vessels out of storage. But his apartment’s floor-to-ceiling glass shelves could not hold any more of his American and European pieces. Made by studio potters mostly between 1970 and 2000, they include Angela Verdon’s ethereal china slashed with translucent stripes and Colin Pearson’s rough stoneware with shaved curls that seem about to fall off. So on and off for a decade Mr. Swidler has been trying to find a museum that will accept his vessels while promising to keep many on view. The Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento, Calif., has met his conditions. Next year it will start showing his gift of 800 objects in 2,500 square feet of new galleries dedicated to ceramics. “They’ve promised not to de-access for at least 50 years, and they’re publishing a catalog of everything,” Mr. Swidler said. He started collecting ceramics in 1984 while living in Boston. He wandered down Newbury Street during a ceramists’ convention when galleries that did not normally handle clay had stocked their windows with handmade ceramics and found himself drawn to everything from Lucie Rie’s striped cylinder vases to Chris Gustin’s cartoony puffed teapots. “I had to limit myself somehow, so I decided everything has to have at least a vessel form,” even if it could not actually hold water, he said. “There’s been no straight sculpture, no wall plaques or tiles. The piece has to have started out as a pot, at first, in the potter’s mind.”

By EVE M. KAHN Published: June 25, 2009