If you aren’t aware of it, there is a Frida Kahlo show that made its American debut this year in San Diego. All objects, including all paintings, are reproductions. The curatorial motivation was to have Kahlo’s complete oeuvre and material effects in one place to view. Because obviously, you know that’s never ever going to happen in real life.

Since opening, the show has received criticism from critics and art historians. Here are the major citations:

  1. The marketing is dubious in that it is not obvious they are reproductions.
  2. The reproductions are not good quality.
  3. The object labels do not give credit to the artist who actually painted it.
  4. A reproduction offers no interpretive or instructional value.

I know, I know! That last one cuts to the soul of many history sites. And it got me thinking, as a marketer and a History person, this exhibition could have worked for us history folks.

See, marketing folk love it when something doesn’t work well, because it gives us a roadmap to success. We learn from our mistakes. So taking those considerations into mind, here is how it “could” have worked with each of the 4 points addressed:

  1. Change the title of the exhibition. As with object labels and webpages, most people don’t spend more than seconds reading. Use a verb that lets people know these are not originals. Words like “re-invented” or “re-imagined” are great. Remember, Frida Kahlo is an Icon. She’s different than other artists and people want to be near her presence, not necessarily her work.
  2. Use art majors from a college or university to recreate the works. It adds the component of community engagement and partnership that will strengthen the reproduction angle you are taking.
  3. Rewrite the object labels.
  4. I can’t.

What does this mean for history organizations? Is it time we claim back art as a product of culture with historical context? Can we crack the Art Exhibition Ivory Tower by doing shows of art reproductions and putting them into historical and cultural context? Or better, offer an art exhibition experience that allows visitors to create their own experience and meaning?

Please say yes! Steal these ideas.

Ps. The best part of this show? You can take pictures next to your favorite Frida painting.


Rebecca Price is Director of Membership Development, Marketing, and Communications at AASLH

Disclaimer:  When I first learned of the exhibition, the article I read was transparent and I’ve known from the beginning this was a reproduction show. I also want to say that I had brief exchange with the Marketing Team that handles the publicity for the show, and there are people who love the show. So all criticism’s are in the eye of the beholder. All publicity I have seen for this show states that the curators’ intention was to share their “love of Frida Kahlo with others.” With that goal in mind, the exhibition can be seen as a success.