Frida in America: The Creative Awakening of a Great Artist

St. Martin’s. Mar. 2020. 400p. ISBN 9781250113382. $29.99. BIOG
This first book from Stahr (art history, Univ. of San Francisco) highlights Frida Kahlo’s budding artistic years with husband Diego Rivera during their visit to San Francisco, New York, and Detroit from 1930 to 1933. The author heavily mined primary sources, such as Kahlo’s letters to her mother and Kahlo/Rivera contemporary Lucienne Bloch’s unpublished diary, yet cites frequently from Hayden Herrera’s popular biography, Frida. The colloquial tone and frequent short quotes create a clipped exposition despite its otherwise easy-to-read prose. Sometimes plodding personal interpretation of Kahlo’s work and heritage detract from “the story of place” Stahr sets out to tell. The author discusses Pan-American sociopolitical issues in the context of the couple’s art, an objective of the book, but also takes twisty, tangential routes losing momentum with distracting minutiae. There are endnotes but no bibliography or index for scholarly follow-up.
VERDICT For Kahlo fans, not scholars. Devotees may wrestle with the author’s in-depth analysis while appreciating its informal voice. Though there are some updated facts provided since Herrera’s biography, the latter is more scholarly and better organized. Readers here can expect a more casual if not meandering narrative of Kahlo’s own adventurous sojourn to “Gringolandia” and back.
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