Frida Kahlo needs no introduction. A maverick in her time and perhaps for all time, Kahlo’s contributions to modern art and Mexican art are legion. She is an iconic figure, especially as we underscore the importance of key feminist perspectives in the art world. As a female artist her influence has been incalculable as she emerged from the dark shadow of her tempestuous life with esteemed Mexican muralist Diego Rivera, her husband and mentor.
The more Kahlo is studied, the more she is appreciated as a celebrated artist in her own right. Indeed, there are those who would brazenly argue that she has contributed more to art and an appreciation of Mexican art than Diego Rivera. Though we will leave it up to history to examine and reveal if their contributions can even be quantified, it is clear both greatly influenced each other.
The New York Botanical Gardens exhibit, FRIDA KAHLO: Art, Garden, Life, holds sway in emphasizing Kahlo’s amazing contributions to the creation of gardens with Diego Rivera. The exhibit is superlative in how it manifests the extent to which gardens played a vital part in Kahlo’s and Rivera’s lives together in the Casa Azul (The Blue House), and how the natural world impacted Kahlo’s art. It is to the credit of the NYBG team and Guest Curator Adriana Zavala, Ph.D. that for the first time, perhaps, Kahlo’s own contributions and perspectives about gardens have been highlighted in bringing out some of the more interesting, vital and heretofore overlooked aspects of her artistic genius.
For two years the New York Botanical Gardens’ team worked with Dr. Zavala to breathe life into this revelatory and electric exhibit about Kahlo’s art as she focused upon subjects in the natural world, gardens, and the personal symbols they conveyed to her. Dr. Zavala is an Associate Professor at Tufts University in the Department of Art and Art History. As a distinguished art historian she is a specialist in Mexican art.
Dr. Zavala well understands the aesthetics and genesis of Kahlo’s art as it intersects with Kahlo’s life. During the process of putting together the exhibit, which included a trip to Mexico to see la Casa Azul (Zavala had visited many times before), and the museums devoted to Kahlo and Rivera, the team guided by Zavala’s promptings sifted through Kahlo’s work and history and read about her extensive education, study of art history, and interest in the natural world. As they planned, investigated, and examined, their journey brought them to many discoveries. As a result they were able to transform the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory into a garden of delights suggesting Kahlo’s world. Within the conservatory exhibit, one will find representations of the various plants, physical reconstructions and music which recall aspects of Kahlo’s artistry, cultural and historical heritage and love of Mexico’s flora and fauna.
The exhibit encompasses not only an evocation of Kahlo’s environs of the Casa Azul (blue house), where she and Rivera lived, but also is an inspired rendering of the beautiful flowering plants that Kahlo experienced in the environs of Mexico City. For Kahlo gardens, plants, and fruits represented profound meaning as embodiments of connectivity between the physical and spiritual realms. Reflecting humanity gardens and plants for Kahlo expressed a brilliant uniqueness and symbiotic diversity which she recognized and appreciated. The pulsating colors bursting with joy in her paintings of still life that have been selected for the exhibit show the vibrance of Kahlo’s intuition about nature’s own artistry. With this exhibit, the NYBG team reveals how various aspects of nature’s beauty, mystery and power enhanced and enriched Kahlo’s psyche and emotions. It is thus apparent that from her gardens’ personal symbolism and intensity, she derived strength and joy.
With Dr. Zavala’s expertise and encouragement, the team selected what they felt to be key works of Kahlo’s that manifested the importance of her natural world conceptualizations. These are exhibited in the LuEsther T. Mertz Library’s Art Gallery. Amongst the 14 Kahlo works, each reveals sometimes with humor, sometimes with mystical or darker metaphors Kahlo’s revelation of life’s spiritual meaning that she believed the natural world reflected. These works include Kahlo’s paintings and sketches on paper, many borrowed from private collections. All highlight Kahlo’s use of botanical imagery.
Kahlo’s cultural roots were embedded in Mexico. The NYBG exhibit pays homage to Kahlo’s history and influence on Mexico’s art not only in the exploration of her work on display and recalled with the exquisite selection and arrangement of plants, music and structures at the Haupt Conservatory, but also with special events during the exhibit which spans Spring, Summer and Fall. These include performances by the Villalobos Brothers as well as the Calpulli Mexican Dance Company.
What you will see at the Frida Kahlo Exhibit, NYBG
- Casa Azul at the Haupt Conservatory which is a beautiful rendering of the colors of Kahlo’s Mexico at her lifelong home.
- Kahlo’s Works at The LuEsther T. Mertz Library’s Art Gallery-14 of Kahlo’s paintings and works on paper.
- The Mexico City of Frida and Diego-a panel exhibition of museums and sites in Mexico City where Kahlo’s and Rivera’s art and personal collections may be viewed.
- Octavio Paz Poetry Walk-20th century Mexican poet Octavio Paz’s poetry referencing native plants and flowers is displayed on placards leading up to the Haupt Conservatory.
- Daily tours, weekend film screenings, live music and dance performances, artisans and performers on special weekends, special cocktail evenings (Frida al Fresco), with Mexico City inspired food, music, drink.
- Dining-enjoy Mexican food and drink inspired by Kahlo’s own recipes at 4 separate dining venues: the Pine Tree Cafe, Frida Kahlo Cantina, Tacos served at the Mexican Taco Truck, Hudson Garden Grill with a pre fixe menu influenced by the exhibition.
- A special work of art evocative of the painting, Los Dos Fridas, The Two Fridas at The LuEsther T. Mertz Library.
The incredible efforts by the knowledgeable and passionate Dr. Zavala, the NYBG team, NYBG sponsors, leaders, and visionaries have resulted in this memorable and amazing exhibit which happily allows us to peer into the mysterious and beloved Frida Kahlo, her life, garden, and art.
The exhibit is running at the NYBG until November 1st.
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