Kahlo, Klimt and the Commodification of Art No One Owns

You Can’t Buy Taste But Now You Can Cook with It?

Heather M. Edwards
8 min readMar 31, 2019


How did an eccentric former model and the central bank of Mexico come to mismanage as much of Frida Kahlo’s estate as Kahlo’s own niece?¹ How is it that a former muse of Diego Rivera withheld some of Kahlo’s most famous paintings while the Mexican government failed to enforce the fiduciary trust responsible for this national treasure?²

There are more questions than answers and a small cast of characters that include two museums and two nieces continue to compete for the marketing and management of a legend that wasn’t always revered.³

Kahlo’s likeness personifies Mexico the same way Marilyn Monroe epitomized classic Hollywood. Unlike France’s Edith Piaf, Kahlo and Monroe’s faces have been marketed as pop art with wild success.

Almost any souvenir shop or stand in any Mexican surf town, big city or pueblo magico will likely have some kind of Frida Kahlo something or other for sale. And none of these souvenirs, from shoulder bags to coffee mugs to jewelry, seem to violate the Mexican Federal Law of Author’s Rights.⁴ But where does that money go?

Part of Kahlo’s legacy may or may not be owned by a company that’s actually called ACME.⁵ In what seems to be an un-ironically named enterprise that has nothing to do with the Road Runner cartoon they sell knick-knacks and pens and money clips of no artistic value but limitless potential to clutter up junk drawers around the world. They also seem to have legal rights to market tchotchkes with the iconic Dark Side of the Moon cover art and a menagerie of other pop culture iconography.

ACME seems to have licensed Kahlo’s name and signature to Soriana, the Mexican Safeway/Target-type chain of household superstores. And Soriana is selling discount dinnerware under Frida Kahlo’s name with a registered trademark. These boxed sets of barely-better-than-camping cookware bare no likeness to Kahlo nor her art. The two-tone black and white has an occasional peacock feather with a bored green splotch and one errant peacock itself with a dollop of dull Crayola cornflower blue.