Frida Kahlo’s life and art cannot be summed up in a single exhibition – but her love of Mexican culture and its natural features, the pre-Columbian world, the interconnectedness of all life is demonstrated in a three-part display —Frida Kahlo Art.Garden.Life –in several locations at the New York Botanical Garden (NYBG) in the Bronx, which is on view through November 1. (Don’t miss the Frida Kahlo Photo Gallery on our web site)
There’s a modest exhibition of 12 paintings, including the iconic Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird, from The University of Texas at Austin; extensive photographic panel displays that provide more detail on her beloved Casa Azul in Coyoacan, her lifelong home; and an elaborate botanical display that reimagines – and interprets — her patio and garden at Casa Azul where she lived with Diego Rivera from their marriage in 1929 until her death in 1954.
Kahlo’s beauty, her energy, and her lifelong suffering — childhood polio, a horrific streetcar accident as a teenager, multiple surgeries, and a philandering artist-husband Diego Rivera –were translated into art that focuses primarily on herself, her inability to have children, and intense loneliness.
These pieces were often worked on small tin panels (like ex voto paintings) and derived from Mexican popular art and retablos. In her art, Frida “extends her being into the world” with self-portraits, according to biographer Hayden Herrera, who has written extensively about the artist. She is both grounded in the earth – with roots and tendrils– and transcendent, with butterflies coming out of her hair (see the self-portrait above).
The NYBG show reimagines the beauty of Casa Azul and its gardens – now forever preserved in Mexico City as the Frida Kahlo Museum—with native flowering plants, tropical flowers, and cacti as well as special features, such as recreation of the Aztec-style pyramid that stands in the Casa Azul Garden, a tiled splashing water fountain with frogs, and interior vignette from her studio, with pots of paint and brushes at the ready.
The Frida cult erupted long after her death in 1954 – with merchandise that ranges from refrigerator magnets to a US postage stamp – but has more importantly inspired a new generation of Mexican-American women with confidence to pursue their art and admiration for the elaborate native Tehuana style that she wore.
The NYBG has rightly focused on the place in Frida Kahlo’s world – the Casa Azul and its gardens – that gave the artist respite from the complex relationships and suffering that gave rise to her work. See this show and you’re bound to want to know more (see below) about the artist and her life.
Author and biographer Hayden Herrera’s video lecture on Frida Kahlo
New York Botanical Garden (details on the exhibition)
Frida mobile app from New York Botanical Garden (only available on mobile device)