In April 1944, Frida Kahlo wrote a frank, somewhat frustrated letter to her gallerist and former lover, Julien Levy.
“I haven’t paint [sic] much because my spine bothers me a lot and I have to wear a damn corset (iron) and it has been hell for me, it is so hard to work with such a contraption on your body!” she laments. “So baby, don’t scold me for not sending you things, and don’t tell me you are disappointed with me.”
This letter is one of six that are featured in season two of Getty’s Recording Artists podcast, Intimate Addresses. This new season uses artists’ letters, drawn from the archive of the Getty Research Institute, to illuminate the lives and personalities of some of the 20th century’s most influential creators. Each episode centers on one letter from one artist: Marcel Duchamp, Frida Kahlo, M. C. Richards, Benjamin Patterson, Nam June Paik, and Meret Oppenheim.
The letters are performed by actor and playwright Anna Deavere Smith. Poet Tess Taylor hosts the show and interviews contemporary artists and art historians, who bring historical, racial, and geopolitical context to the world in which the artists were working and living.
“We obviously wanted to tell the story of 20th-century art through these letters,” Taylor says, “but we also wanted to capture artists in these moments in their ordinary lives, in the backstage of making art as they were falling in love, asking for money, or working through pain.”
The artists write to family and friends, lovers, and collaborators about topics that range from their work to mutual friends to parenthood. Marcel Duchamp writes to longtime friend and fellow artist Man Ray after fleeing Nazi-occupied France to ask for help selling a work of art. In a letter to musician David Tudor, Nam June Paik jokes about the cockroaches in his studio apartment before making an earnest plea for money — not for himself but for a fellow artist. And, at the onset of the women’s liberation movement, Meret Oppenheim writes to superstar curator Harald Szeemann about his sexist mischaracterization of her deeply personal work.
Through the artists’ intimate and sometimes provocative words, the podcast weaves together a story of creativity, resilience in the face of the art world’s challenges, and the ways in which artists’ lives intersect with each other.
“These letters changed not just how I thought about art in the past, but also how I see art in the present,” Taylor says.
You can listen and subscribe to Recording Artists: Intimate Addresses wherever you get your podcasts and on the Getty website.