Frida Kahlo Collection: An Interview with Vicente Wolf
Andrea Blanch: You're an interior designer of great renown. What sparked your interest in photography and art collecting?
Vicente Wolf: Around 45 years ago I was working with my partner at the time, Bob Patino, with Richard Avedon, the photographer, in his studio, and he said, "You know, you should be collecting photography. It's the next trend of collecting." And it started this tsunami of purchases that has gone on for 35 years.
Andrea: What was the first piece you bought?
Vicente: A Leland Rice photograph that I saw at a show at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington.
Andrea: And is there any piece of work that you wanted that simply got away from you?
Vicente: Yes, I remember one particular one. I collect Italian futurists and around 35 years ago, there was one particular photograph collage that I really wanted. It was by Paladini and eight or 10 years ago it came up for auction again and I bought it. So that was one that got away but came back.
Andrea: Do you find that your own photography influences your collecting?
Vicente: No. It just gives me an appreciation of all it takes to create an amazing photo.
Andrea: I'm curious t how your interest in Frida Kahlo began.
Vicente: Anne Horton, who used to be the head of photography for Sotheby's for many years, called me up and said that she had this collection of photo albums that belonged to Frida Kahlo and did I know if any of my clients would be interested? And sure enough one of my clients was interested and he asked me what I wanted for compensation. And I said I wanted three photographs. He refused. He said he'd pay me but no photographs. And so I went to look at it again, and I said to myself "When is something like this ever going to come in front of me again?" There aren't that many ... iconic figures in the world who still have a stash of work that is available to buy. And I said "I'll buy it." I mortgaged my house and I'm like —
Andrea: Oh my God, I didn't know that.
Vicente: Yes, I mortgaged my house.
Andrea: I had no idea. I had no idea. So why did you think that these photographs, this collection, would increase in value?
Vicente: I felt that when you went through the 450 photographs, she came alive. You could smell her, you could really feel her dialogue with the observer. It wasn't like I was a groupie.
Andrea: What did you learn about her from looking at the photographs that you didn't know before?
Vicente: Well, I felt that sort of strange relationship she had with Diego Rivera, because a lot of the photographs are of him being accosted by all these young girls, which, obviously, he was screwing around. And so there was that side. There was this side of her suffering. And so there's a lot of her pain. And then when you look at the pictures she stands out as the only contemporary visual in all the photographs. She's at dinner parties, she's at parties, she's at gatherings. Everybody looks like they're caught in the '30s. She looks like she could be walking down the street today. How she projected herself through time was really amazing.
Andrea: Do you think that there is any difference in the way her presence is felt when she's photographed with other people as opposed to when she's photographed alone?
Vicente: There's always that connection between her and the camera. Remember, her father was a photographer. So she had seen photographs since she was a child and she had a very clear dialogue with a camera.
Andrea: And now there's a huge resurgence.
Vicente: Because there are books coming out on her constantly. The paintings are selling for more and more. Madonna was buying them. I think she has not faded. She's only gotten stronger. Because more and more people know her and more people are aware of her gifts. I think society has caught up to her.
Andrea: Exactly. Has her work influenced your interior design in any way?
Vicente: No, but it has allowed me to enter a world of museums and collectors that I would not have ever been part of, and to enter a gallery or museum where people are looking at these photographs so intently and realize, “Hell, those are mine.”
Andrea: Do you have favorites in the collection?
Vicente: Yes, the iconic one of her and her family where she's dressed like a man.
Andrea: Have you sold any of the images from the collection?
Vicente: Absolutely not. No. I think that that is a disservice to her. And to what the collection stands for.
Andrea: What do you have planned for the Kahlo collection next?
Vicente: Well, the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Venice. That's going to be for the architectural biennale. Right now, some of the photographs are at the Brooklyn Museum and they were at the Victoria and Albert discussing other shows in Europe.
Andrea: Would you sell the collection if somebody you know made the right offer?
Vicente: Well, it would depend on who it would be sold to. I would love it to end up in an institution that would use it for research and to perpetuate her name.
Andrea: That said, you gave a wonderful interview.
Vicente: Thank you for your questions.