Collection of Frida Kahlo Letters Auctioned for $137,000

Peter Costanzo of Doyle, auctioning Lot #231, a collection of letters from Frida Kahlo to her lover, José Bartolí. (Photo: Julie Schwietert Collazo)
Peter Costanzo of Doyle, auctioning Lot #231, a collection of letters from Frida Kahlo to her lover, José Bartolí. (Photo: Julie Schwietert Collazo)

The mystery buyer arrived at the auction of 582 lots approximately five minutes before Peter Costanzo, Vice President of Doyle New York Auctioneers and Appraisers and the auctioneer for the first half of Wednesday’s sale, opened bids for Lot #231, “an important unpublished archive of approximately twenty-five autograph letters to José Bartolí, with photographs and various enclosures.” Seven minutes later, and just two minutes into bidding on Lot #231, the woman wielding paddle #283 was declared the winning bidder, with the coveted collection of letters going for $110,000, $10,000 below what the auction house estimated as the high bid range for the lot.

As is the custom at U.S. auctions, the bidder was not identified by name, though Doyle indicated to at least one outlet that the winning bidder, an Asian woman who made her bid from the floor, was a New York City-based artist and art collector. Bidding started at 12:55 PM, nearly three hours after the highly anticipated auction opened. Just over a dozen people were in attendance, with the winning bidder the only member of those assembled who entered a competitive sum. She responded immediately when bidding opened at $60,000 and offered counter bids as other offers came in by phone and Internet.

Costanzo, who indicated during previews of the letters that “everyone” in the art world knew about the auction, declined to reveal which museums and cultural institutions might be bidding for the lot of letters, which Kahlo wrote to her lover, José Bartolí, in the 1940s. In addition to the letters, the lot contained drawings made by Kahlo and photos of her, including some by renowned photographer Nickolas Muray, who had had his own affair with Kahlo. Costanzo said that museums might find it hard to vie for the collection, as the objects wouldn’t fit neatly amidst artworks, and institutions like Mexico City’s Casa Azul, the house where Kahlo was born, where she lived with muralist Diego Rivera, and which is now a museum, might find it difficult to raise the kind of money required to purchase such a valuable collection. Costanzo’s observation seemed to play out in the gallery on Wednesday, as the volley of offers and counter-offers was somewhat lethargic. After offering her final bid of $110,000, Costanzo held off on confirming her as the new owner of the letters until several phone and online bidders were asked directly if they wanted to up the ante.

They did not. After Costanzo issued a final warning and the bid was sealed, the winner was whisked away by Doyle staff, who added a $27,000 buyer premium to the bid, bringing the total to $137,000.

SANER show at Jonathan LeVine Gallery in NYC

Text: Julie Schwietert Collazo
Photos: Francisco Collazo
**
Among the many subjects I cover in my work, one of my favorites is street art, and that’s because it explores and embodies so many of my other interests–politics, social justice, en fin, la gente y el pueblo, how life is lived and seen at street level–in a single, colorful, impactful form.

Saner and two of the works in "Primitivo," on view at NYC's Jonathan LeVine Gallery until February 7, 2015.
Saner and two of the works in “Primitivo,” on view at NYC’s Jonathan LeVine Gallery until February 7, 2015.

I’m starting my work week filing an article for the art website Hyperallergic about “Primitivo,” the just-opened show at Jonathan LeVine Gallery by Mexican artist, SANER, who started as a street artist and who has, over the years, moved into other genres, including drawing and painting. I’ll link back to that article when it’s published. In the meantime, you can take a virtual tour of the show through Francisco’s photos, which he shot on Friday before the show opened to the public.

The Disappearance of Mexico’s Students & How You Can Help

Text & Photos:
Julie Schwietert Collazo
**
I’ve been covering the disappearance of the 43 students from the state of Guerrero, Mexico since early November, nearly five weeks after the students were taken by authorities on September 26.

Since most of my reporting has been from my home base in New York (with the exception of a couple pieces that were reported from Mexico City on November 20), I’ve focused on US responses to the disappearance and to artistic and cultural reactions, both online and off.

I’ve been gratified and moved by the responses to my articles, not because they were about me or my work, but because they confirmed that people do actually give a damn. And, a lot of them (you!) told me that they care so much, in fact, that they want to be able to do something–anything–meaningful to make a difference and to let Mexicans know that they stand in solidarity with them.

A sign carried by a participant in the November 20 protest in Mexico City. It reads "In solidarity with the disappeared." (Photo: Julie Schwietert Collazo)
A sign carried by a participant in the November 20 protest in Mexico City. It reads “In solidarity with the disappeared.” (Photo: Julie Schwietert Collazo)

This happens a lot with the news, I think. We hear about the terrible things that are happening in the world and we want to take action. But more often than not, the news we’re presented is totally decontextualized and it lacks any call to specific action. The effect, then, is that we’re left feeling helpless. Knowledge, it seems, isn’t always power.

In the weeks that I’ve been covering the Ayotzinapa story, I’ve given a lot of thought to what readers can do to take meaningful action and to feel that they’re not just passive consumers of the news. I’ve come up with the list below based on several inputs: (1) my own experience as a former social worker and what it means to help; (2) my experiences of listening to Mexicans as they confront the horror of Ayotzinapa and related atrocities; (3) my interview with John M. Ackerman, a law professor at Mexico’s National Autonomous University and a journalist in his own right.

Here are some actions that you can take:

1. Continue to commit yourself to staying informed.
With all of the abuses and horrors committed in the world, it is incredibly difficult to continue paying attention to one single episode of violence. And yet, doing so is crucial if governments are to feel that international attention and pressure are upon them to take action. Staying informed is the single most important thing you can do to show your support, even if it feels like the most passive action. With respect to Ayotzinapa, the website Mexico Voices provides English-language translations of articles that were written by Mexicans and published in Mexican media. The coverage is far more comprehensive than any currently available in the mainstream media in the United States.

2. Share information with others.
You don’t have to become a left-wing activist crusader to help spread the word about what’s happening, and you don’t have to flood your Facebook status updates with impassioned pleas for followers and friends to pay attention to what’s happening in Mexico or elsewhere. Share articles and information that seem of greatest value among your social networks. Put these into as much context as you can. Avoid sharing information that’s sensationalist or that comes from a source that you can’t verify or that seems suspect. Spreading consciousness about what’s happening is key, but it’s only useful if the information you’re sharing is accurate.

3. Commit yourself to your own community.
Though there is a desire–and an understandable one–to help the families affected directly by the disappearance of their children, it’s not entirely clear (at least from my position) what kind of tangible help would be (a) most useful and (b) most sustainable. When confronted with the world’s horrors, I’m reminded that one of the best and most sensible actions I can take is to recommit myself to acting honorably within my own microcosm.

One of the reasons I left the social work profession was because I realized that while it was founded on pragmatic ideals that involved tangible changes in individuals’ and communities’ well-being, so many of its actual practices were rooted not in actionable activities. Instead, actions were often based on hand-out principles that made the giver feel good, but either had little positive long-term effect or actually had a detrimental impact. Rather than obsess over what you can do for someone else, take the time to consider how you can make the greatest impact for peace in your own community and in your own family.

God knows every community could use more of that.

4. Take a stand or contribute your skills when obvious opportunities arise for you to do so.
Whether it’s signing a petition in support of Adán Cortés, who interrupted the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony last week, creating a piece of artwork for Tribute to the Disappeared or #IlustradoresconAyotzinapa, or offering to host the Clothesline project in your community, there are opportunities to take a more direct action that will make you feel like you’re doing something important. I know for sure–because I’ve been told as much–that the participation of a larger community means a great deal to the people who are organizing these displays of support and solidarity.

[Update: I just learned of this photography initiative supported by Social Documentary Network, which is a worthy cause for both pro and amateur photographers.]

5. Pick up a pen.
Send a letter to Mexican officials to let them know you’re watching and that you condemn the disappearance of the students and the way the case has been handled. Let them know you are a witness and that you stand in solidarity with ordinary Mexicans, whose lives have been impacted negatively by narcoviolence and the collusion of the government in profiteering from drug cartel activity.

Tweet President Enrique Peña Nieto: @EPN
Write him a letter: President Enrique Peña Nieto
Residencia Los Pinos
Distrito Federal, MÉXICO

6. Don’t boycott Mexico.
Deciding to boycott Mexico by canceling a vacation there or choosing not to buy Mexican products is unlikely to hurt the people who are causing and contributing the problems that gave rise to the disappearance of the students. Instead, it hurts ordinary Mexicans who are, in many cases, already struggling.

7. Learn more.
Take the opportunity to learn more not only about the current situation, but to fill in the blanks of history that the US media fail to contextualize. One excellent beginning resource is The Mexico Reader, an anthology published by Duke University Press.

Do you have other ideas about how people can help? Please share them below.

More Posters about Ayotzinapa

Text: Julie Schwietert Collazo
Images: As attributed
**
Earlier this week, I published an article on Latin Correspondent about the poster and cartoon art that have emerged in Mexico since the disappearance of the 43 students in the state of Guerrero. You can see that piece here.

Here are a few additional pieces that I find particularly compelling but weren’t included in the LC article:

This poster, announcing a "Mega University March," says "Education is the best barrier vs. bullets and the bad government." (Image via Facebook)
This poster, announcing a “Mega University March,” says “Education is the best barrier vs. bullets and the bad government.” (Image via Facebook)
In the wake of Ayotzinapa, protesters have been reminding the public about many other disappearances and killings, including those of Tehuacán, where two teachers were killed earlier this year. (Image via Facebook)
In the wake of Ayotzinapa, protesters have been reminding the public about many other disappearances and killings, including those of Tehuacán, where two teachers were killed earlier this year. (Image via Facebook)
This clever crossword puzzle also makes mention of a number of other disappearances and deaths. At the bottom of the puzzle, the text reads, "And when he woke up, death and impunity were still playing there."
This clever crossword puzzle also makes mention of a number of other disappearances and deaths. At the bottom of the puzzle, the text reads, “And when he woke up, death and impunity were still playing there.”
Imagery typical of Mexico, including ex votos, the medals used to pin up near saints in Catholic churches to either ask for or give thanks for favors, can be seen in this and other posters. (Image via Facebook).
Imagery typical of Mexico, including ex votos, the medals used to pin up near saints in Catholic churches to either ask for or give thanks for favors, can be seen in this and other posters. (Image via Facebook).
President Enrique Peña Nieto depicted giving a speech. "Blah, blah, blah" is the main message. (Image via Facebook).
President Enrique Peña Nieto depicted giving a speech. “Blah, blah, blah” is the main message. (Image via Facebook).

Reporter-and mother-in Mexico

Text & Photos:
Julie Schwietert Collazo
**
Note: This was the essay I submitted to The New York Times’ Motherlode blog before covering the NYC protests on the night of the Ferguson verdict. After consulting with the editor, I used only a small part of this piece in a reworked essay about covering protests, which was published by Motherlode last week. You can read that essay here.
**
The assignment email arrived on Wednesday morning. Could I cover the planned march in Mexico City the following day? Thousands were expected to turn out for a march demanding justice for 43 students who were kidnapped by police in late September, their fates still unknown. I’d been reporting various aspects of the case for several outlets from afar. Could I, the editor asked, cover it on the ground? I read the message to my husband. “When are you flying out?” he asked.

Mexico City's Monument to the Revolution is visible in the background as thousands of protesters march towards the city's main plaza. (Photo: Julie Schwietert Collazo)
Mexico City’s Monument to the Revolution is visible in the background as thousands of protesters march towards the city’s main plaza. (Photo: Julie Schwietert Collazo)

It’s not as if we sit around wringing our hands, wondering whether I should take on assignment that involves leaving him and our three children—a five year old, a 13 month old, and a three month old—at home. As a generalist freelancer specializing in Latin America and working in a publication climate where the calculus of effort and work versus financial reward never seems to become less challenging, I don’t have the luxury of turning down many assignments, especially as my family’s breadwinner.

But as I stood under the flag flying over the Zócalo, Mexico City’s main plaza and the end point for the march that had brought thousands to the street in a peaceful demonstration, I knew that this was entirely different. Across the plaza, I could hear small explosions. A man with a bullhorn was warning those of us in the middle of the plaza to move back; a confrontation was inevitable, he said. I was about to make the decision to advance toward a group of protesters throwing Molotov cocktails at police standing in front of the National Palace, decked out in full riot gear. Should I beat a retreat to my hotel, just a couple blocks away or stay and see this protest through, reporting the full trajectory of events?

A small group of protesters threw Molotov cocktails at riot police, who were posted in front of the National Palace. (Photo: Julie Schwietert Collazo)
A small group of protesters threw Molotov cocktails at riot police, who were posted in front of the National Palace. (Photo: Julie Schwietert Collazo)

I advanced. I’d take common-sense precautions. I’d leave if things escalated to the point where I felt my life was in danger. I knew the area well—my husband and I had lived in Mexico City before we had kids and I’m there frequently for work—and as I surveyed the scene, I evaluated possible escape routes.

Then, I took out my camera and started shooting.

Every few minutes, I’d update my Facebook status. Each time I did, the joyous face of my five year old looked back at me from the screen. My husband, too busy with our three energetic kids to keep an eye on my social media feeds, wouldn’t be reading my posts, but I knew close friends would alert him if they had urgent concerns about me. He knew where I was staying and where he could find a copy of my passport if he needed to contact the Embassy. We had even talked about the possibility of teargas at 3:30 that morning as he helped me out the door for my 5:45 AM flight.

Protesters shouted insults and profanities, threw bottles and garbage, and rattled and rocked the barricades separating them from the riot police at whom they were directing their rage. I was standing on the barricade, shooting photos as Molotov cocktails exploded at the feet of police, who were putting out the small bursts of fire with extinguishers. I was alert but not overly worried– the Mexican Constitution prohibits police from carrying arms at and during peaceful protests. On the other hand, the 1968 massacre of unarmed students at Tlatelolco, the site of which was less than a mile away, came to mind, and the striking absence of uniformed police along the entire march route had already put me on edge. I wasn’t naïve: the shit could hit the fan without warning.

One of the gates separating riot police from protesters was wrested free and thrown toward the police. (Photo: Julie Schwietert Collazo)
One of the gates separating riot police from protesters was wrested free and thrown toward the police. (Photo: Julie Schwietert Collazo)

Suddenly, some protesters managed to wrest one of the barriers free of the others, hurling it towards the riot police. The breach of the barrier flipped the switch. Cops swarmed toward protesters, sending them running in retreat. The crowd seemed divided. The majority had come as peaceful protesters, drawn closer to the conflict because of curiosity and, in some cases, the hope that their presence and their chants of “No violencia, no violencia” (“No violence, no violence”) could deescalate a confrontation. Others wanted to stand their ground and shouted “Ni un paso atrás” (“Not one step back”). Riot police pulled back. But then, another provocation. This time, they surged forward with full speed, pushing the crowd across the plaza. Once on the other side of the plaza, they broke into files, closing off side streets and trapping protesters—and me—in a box they made with their bodies. Tear gas was released, sending some people into a panic. I pulled my scarf up over my mouth and thought about my husband’s warnings.

Riot police, moments before they begin to swarm across the Zócalo. (Photo: Julie Schwietert Collazo)
Riot police, moments before they begin to swarm across the Zócalo. (Photo: Julie Schwietert Collazo)

It was time to make another decision. As a mass of people heaved forward, pressing into my back and pushing me along, I thought of my kids, a picture of each of them flashing across my mind. “They died doing what they loved” has always seemed the most pathetic of epitaphs, no matter how true. I was face to face with a riot cop, my body pressed against his shield. I didn’t want to get trampled by the crowd or beaten by the cop. I knew that no matter what, I couldn’t let myself fall down. I inched along the wall I was pressed against, looking for an out.

And it was just then when a gap opened between two cops. I knew I had to get there and I knew I had to do it fast. A man beside me, his face bloodied and his expression of confusion transitioning to shock, was the last thing I saw as I dove around a riot shield and out onto Calle Madero, where a constellation of glass lay shattered on the sidewalk. Gulping deep breaths of air, I kept moving forward, dodging what looked like a road block by ducking onto a side street and winding my way back to my hotel.

"Cursed be the soldier who takes up arms against his people." (Photo: Julie Schwietert Collazo)
“Cursed be the soldier who takes up arms against his people.” (Photo: Julie Schwietert Collazo)

It is easy, perhaps, for you to think I’m some irresponsible adrenaline junkie, a charge, it’s worth noting, I’ve never heard leveled at a male journalist who happens to also be a father. I am not. I am, instead, a writer who believes in the power and responsibility of being a witness to other people’s stories and telling them because I have the privilege of access to outlets that let me use my voice to do so. Earlier in the evening, my attention had been drawn repeatedly to women, mothers, grandmothers, and children in the protest. “What if your son was #44?” read a handmade poster carried by a woman who looked worn by life’s trials. I couldn’t bear to take her photo. Instead, I looked deeply into her eyes and nodded, a quiet gesture of recognition between two mothers.

"The homeland isn't the narco-politicians. The homeland isn't narco-businessmen. The homeland is its people, its culture, its natural resources, itrs traditions. In the end, we are one people, you and I." (Photo: Julie Schwietert Collazo)
“The homeland isn’t the narco-politicians. The homeland isn’t narco-businessmen. The homeland is its people, its culture, its natural resources, itrs traditions. In the end, we are one people, you and I.” (Photo: Julie Schwietert Collazo)

My identity as a mother informs my identity as a reporter and writer, and vice versa. How could they not? I noticed the child lying on the ground in front of the Benito Juárez memorial, drawing a picture to carry in the march. I noticed the dad who carried his daughter in his arms for the two miles between the Angel of Independence statue and the Zócalo. I wanted to be here as their witness, to say that I won’t be complicit in the silence of media who don’t think these stories and lives are important. I wanted to be here because maybe, just maybe, the thousands of people marching might make their country—a place that had once been my home, too—a safer one.

Her sign reads, "I don't want to grow up in fear." (Photo: Julie Schwietert Collazo)
Her sign reads, “I don’t want to grow up in fear.” (Photo: Julie Schwietert Collazo)

Many friends and colleagues who are women and who have reached their mid 30s struggle with “the kid question.” “How can I have kids and still do this work?” some have asked me. “How can I not?” might be the better question. I wanted to be here because I want, someday, to say to my children—my two daughters, especially—that they don’t have to choose between their family and their work. That it’s all important.