Saturday, August 29, 2015

Day Trip to FRIDA KAHLO Show at the New York Botanical

Frida Kahlo: Art • Garden • Life
On view through November 1, 2015

The entrance alone is worth the trip to the New York Botanical Garden. They’ve done a wonderful job of making it welcoming and grand. Right off the bat, the taco truck is just past the entrance alongside the rolling lawns, the grand vistas, and the giant poster for the Frida Kahlo show on the Mertz building.

The Mertz Building with the poster for the Frida Kahlo show.

The Frida Kahlo: Art, Garden, Life, in the LuEsther T. Mertz Library, and curated by Adriana Zavala, is remarkable. It’s select but inclusive with her fabulous Self Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird, 1940. Her pet monkey and cat watch over her and look around at the same time – clearly they are not just pets -- they are familiars. Then there is the jungle surround. Used on the poster for the show, it makes it clear that this show is at the Botanical Garden and we better get used to it.

The paintings and drawings are heavy on still life subjects and each has it’s own magic. At once formal and luscious they lead into the more scientific part of the show: Case after case of botanical specimens, illustrations, references, and notes, all concerning the flora used by Kahlo. These speak to the most casual visitors, all manner of gardeners, professional botanists, and the hard-core Kahlo enthusiasts. Following botany are maps and photographs documenting her reverence for Mexico City. We even see her with Rivera in the ancient floating gardens of Xochimilco.

Reconstruction of Kahlo and Rivera's Casa Azul
A stroll or tram ride away is the second part of the show, Frida Kahlo: Garden. There, in the Haupt Conservatory, we encounter a re-imaging of Kahlo and Diego Rivera’s Case Azul. Originally constructed in the garden of Kahlo’s family home, it is an Aztec-inspired construction built to hold Rivera’s pre-Hispanic collection. Here it’s used for Mexican cacti and succulents in traditional terra cotta pots. Nearby are re-created versions of their “frog fountain” and Kahlo’s desk. All told there are masses of the native species that the couple favored; in addition to the cacti and succulents, there are cock’s comb, dahlias, zinnias, and, giving many visitors an entirely new appreciation of an old standby, marigolds. These are the two-foot tall Mexican natives known as the African Marigolds; the name in Aztec means “twenty flowers.” They are also associated with death and used to decorate graves for All Souls’ Day. Outside at the lily pond a greenhouse wall hosts a pipe organ cactus fence recalling the one at Rivera’s studio in San Angel.
Recreation of Diego Rivera's Pipe Organ Cactus Fence
In Kahlo’s endlessly complex and fraught world somehow botanical science is layered with marriages, with Mexican art, social history, and urban life, as well as with racial and medical issues.