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New art space shows candid photos of artist Frida Kahlo

"Frida in the Sun" by Leo Matiz.
"Frida in the Sun" by Leo Matiz.

Business partners Mali Parkerson and Valentina Garcia are in a very good place. The two have recently opened m+v ART, a gallery space that provides artist management and art advisory services, and are inaugurating the space with a bang. The space will host an exhibition of never-before-seen photographs by prolific Colombian photographer Leo Matiz of artist Frida Kahlo.

Leo Matiz spent 60 years behind the camera before his death in 1998 at the age of 81. He spent years chronicling Latin America, the Middle East and other locations around the world as a photojournalist for the United Nations, Life magazine and many Spanish-language publications, earning accolades and exhibitions throughout his long career. He would eventually be recognized by the Colombian government as the country’s most important photographer of the 20th century.

Among Leo Matiz’s subjects was Frida Kahlo, a Mexican painter whose works, influenced by surrealism and traditional Mexican folk art, rose to prominence in the second half of the 20th century and whose extraordinary life was portrayed by actress Salma Hayek in the 2002 film Frida. Many iconic images of her can be attributed to images Leo Matiz took of her in 1940s Mexico.

The images on exhibition at m+v ART have never been seen or published before. Alejandra Matiz, daughter of Leo Matiz and president of the Leo Matiz Foundation, says the discovery came in the process of digitizing the foundation’s archives of over 400,000 negatives and 10,000 positives. While going through the archives, they found a yellowed, sealed envelope labeled “Mexico and Friends,” which included the unseen negatives.

“I did not expect there to be such important series of negatives in 35 mm. There were 78 negatives in total and we immediately started to clean them and digitalize them. Once we began this process, we found [photos of] a young restless Frida, with short and curly hair, accompanied by friends like Covarrubias and his wife, [artist and Kahlo’s husband] Diego [Rivera] dancing, and her sister Cristina Kahlo with whom Diego had an affair. Other images included walks through Xochimilco, others in her house, La Casa Azul, lying in her garden and others we see her with musicians and sitting down in her garden with friends.”

The photos are extraordinarily intimate and offer a brief glimpse into the life of an artist that has long intrigued art historians and appreciators alike. Many galleries and museums would jump at the opportunity to exhibit the collection of photographs. But Alejandra Matiz saw the opportunity to help Garcia, whom she had known for years, by providing her the photos to inaugurate m+v ART’s space and provide a unique opportunity for two emerging art professionals.

The exhibition is a big boon for Parkerson and Garcia’s new venture. The two young women, 35 and 30 respectively, are working for themselves for the first time and hoping to make names for themselves in a crowded Miami market. An exhibition of this stature will only help them gain name recognition.

Parkerson spent 12 years in television, first producing reality and game shows for Latin America and later selling telenovelas in Europe and the Middle East. After years of exhaustion, she quit her job in 2008; the timing proved inopportune for her, as the global financial crisis made it difficult to find a job. Paterson realized that she needed to create her own opportunities. She had met esteemed Venezuelan sculptor Rafael Barrios, whom she worked to help manage and helped mentor her in establishing her new career.

When Parkerson thought it was time to find a physical space, she decided she would need an assistant and placed an ad on Craigslist for an assistant, where she received an application from Garcia. Garcia, who had worked at the Elkon Gallery and Sotheby’s in the Latin American department, seemed like a perfect fit for her.

“[Valentina] had an amazing resume and I decided to call her. Her first phrase after saying hello was ‘I don’t want to be an assistant. I’m the director of a very important gallery in New York.’ We had an amazing conversation, we have the views on art, we have the same favorite artists. … It just kind of clicked.”

Valentina, who was hoping to break out on her own, decided that Miami was somewhere she wanted to be.

“I think it’s a good time for Miami and I think with all of my experience in New York, I could really do something here with the art community.”

They’ve decided to build their business out of a small space in the Wynwood Building, an office and retail building managed by Goldman Properties at the heart of the neighborhood the space is named after. Here they intend to grow their roster of artists they manage and discover more clients.

But for Parkerson, their ultimate goal is to help elevate the work of talented artists.

“If we like it, we will show it.”