Major 2015 Exhibition, FRIDA KAHLO: Art, Garden, Life, Is First NYC Solo Presentation of Artist’s Work in More Than 25 Years

  • NEW YORK, New York
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  • November 24, 2014

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Opening on May 16, 2015, and remaining on view through November 1, 2015, The New York Botanical Garden’s exhibition is the first to focus exclusively on Kahlo’s intense interest in the botanical world.

Exhibition to Include a Re-Creation of Frida Kahlo’s Garden and Studio, Replete with Vivid Flowers and Plants Native to Mexico.
More than a Dozen Original Kahlo Works will be on Display,
Demonstrating the Artist’s Fascination with the Botanical World
On View May 16–November 1, 2015

The first solo presentation of artist Frida Kahlo’s work in New York City in more than 25 years, FRIDA KAHLO: Art, Garden, Life, focuses on the artist’s engagement with nature in her native country of Mexico, as seen in her garden and decoration of her home, as well as her complex use of plant imagery in her painting. Opening on May 16, 2015, and remaining on view through November 1, 2015, The New York Botanical Garden’s exhibition is the first to focus exclusively on Kahlo’s intense interest in the botanical world.

Curated by distinguished art historian and specialist in Mexican art, Adriana Zavala, Ph.D., the exhibition will transform many of The New York Botanical Garden’s spaces and gardens. It will include a flower show that reimagines Kahlo’s studio and garden at the Casa Azul (Blue House) in the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, and a rare display of more than a dozen original paintings and drawings on view in the LuEsther T. Mertz Library’s Art Gallery.  
Accompanying programs invite visitors to learn about Kahlo’s Mexico in new ways through poetry, lectures, Mexican-inspired shopping and dining experiences, and hands-on activities for kids. Bilingual texts in English and Spanish will provide historical and cultural background, with photos of the garden as it appeared during Kahlo’s lifetime, along with quotes from the artist about her home and connection to the botanical world.
FRIDA KAHLO: Art, Garden, Life will be a one-of-a-kind exhibition that will provide an in-depth look at Kahlo’s work and artistic environment and also celebrate the energy and sophistication of Mexican culture,” explains Gregory Long, CEO and The William C. Steere Sr. President of the Garden. “Frida Kahlo is a profoundly important artist whose work reflects the complexity of the artist’s life and times. The Garden is proud to present this focused look at Kahlo’s work, which examines how it was influenced by nature.”
“It has been a tremendous privilege to work with the team at The New York Botanical Garden to bring FRIDA KAHLO: Art, Garden, Life to fruition,” notes curator Adriana Zavala, Ph.D., “As a scholar and ambassador of Mexican culture, I am proud that this exhibition will enrich our understanding of Frida Kahlo’s connection not just to her native Mexico but to the natural world overall. The research that has gone into building this multifaceted project demonstrates that Kahlo’s life, her times, and her work were, like the natural world itself, a crossroads of transcultural influences.”

Gisele Freund, Frida in the Garden, Casa Azul. 1951.
Courtesy Throckmorton Fine Art

The Garden at the Casa Azul

The landmark Enid A. Haupt Conservatory at The New York Botanical Garden will come alive with the colors and textures of Frida Kahlo’s Mexico. Visitors entering the exhibition will view a reimagined version of Kahlo’s garden at the Casa Azul (Blue House), the artist’s lifelong home outside of Mexico City, which she transformed with traditional Mexican folk-art objects, colonial-era art, religious ex-voto paintings, and native Mexican plants. Passing through the blue courtyard walls with embellishments in sienna and green, visitors will stroll along lava rock paths lined with flowers, showcasing a variety of plants native to Mexico. A scale version of the pyramid at the Casa Azul—originally created to display pre-Columbian art collected by Kahlo’s husband, famed muralist Diego Rivera—will showcase traditional terra-cotta pots filled with cacti and succulents found in her garden. The exhibition will include a re-creation of Kahlo’s studio that overlooked her garden, as well as the organ pipe cactus fence that is still located at Rivera’s studio in the nearby San Ángel neighborhood of Mexico City. Visitors to the Conservatory will experience the Casa Azul as an expression of Kahlo’s deep connection to the natural world and to Mexico. 

Kahlo’s Works on View: The Library Exhibition 

The LuEsther T. Mertz Library’s Art Gallery at the Garden will exhibit 14 of Kahlo’s paintings and works on paper—many borrowed from private collections—highlighting the artist’s use of botanical imagery in her work. Focusing on her lesser-known yet equally spectacular still-lifes, as well as works that engage nature in unusually symbolic ways, this grouping of artworks will include Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird (1940); Flower of Life (1944); Still Life with Parrot and Flag (1951); and Self-Portrait Inside a Sunflower (1954). 

The Mertz Library exhibition, curated by Zavala, will introduce visitors to the importance of plants and nature in Kahlo’s paintings and her life. Also on view will be large-scale photographs of the Casa Azul taken by Kahlo’s father, Guillermo Kahlo, who built the home, and specialized in views of landmark buildings. These will be complemented by photographs of Kahlo and Rivera, taken by photographers and friends such as Lola Alvarez Bravo, Nickolas Muray, and Emmy Lou Packard.
An installation of specially commissioned artwork by contemporary Artist in Residence, Humberto Spindola, who has been instrumental in curating the current plant collection at the Museo Frida Kahlo, and who specializes in sculptural works in paper inspired by Kahlo and her home, will also be presented.

Programming Throughout the Garden

Programs will include weekend music and dance performances ranging in genre from folk to mariachi to contemporary. “Frida al Fresco” evenings during the summer will feature live music, cocktails, and Mexican-inspired dinner menus. A self-guided Mexican Plant Tour will showcase plants native to Mexico and located in the various collections throughout the Garden’s 250 acres. Developed in partnership with the Poetry Society of America, a poetry walk will highlight the work of important 20th-century Mexican poet Octavio Paz (1914–98).
Events will include a day-long symposium entitled Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera—Mexican Art in the 20th Century; a Mexican film festival; and food and culture festivals. Special programming for children and families will include a scavenger hunt, dress-up areas, and botanical science activities.

About Frida Kahlo, Her Work, Her Garden

Frida Kahlo (1907–54), revered as one of the most significant artists of the 20th century, has risen to prominence over the past three decades as an international symbol of Mexican and feminist identity. Important aspects of her life’s story, including her tumultuous relationship with her husband, muralist Diego Rivera (1886–1957), and her struggle with injury and illness, are well known and have been documented in countless biographies, exhibitions, fictional accounts, and analyses of her art. FRIDA KAHLO: Art, Garden, Life will add to this legacy by showcasing the artist’s love of Mexican plants and nature.
Of Kahlo’s approximately 200 paintings, 55 are self-portraits, and many more are portraits of friends and colleagues, including art patrons. Many of these portraits incorporate plants and other organic materials. In her still-life paintings, she depicts a variety of Mexican fruit and flowers alongside animals, Mexican folk art, and pre-Columbian objects. Kahlo’s inclusion of plants and nature in her work spans her entire career but her most intensive dedication to the still-life genre dates to the 1940s and 1950s, particularly as her health declined and she was increasingly confined to her home and garden, which underwent its most significant period of development during the 1930s and 1940s.

About Curator Dr. Adriana Zavala

Adriana Zavala, Ph.D., Associate Professor of modern and contemporary Latin American art and Director of Latino Studies at Tufts University, is the curator of FRIDA KAHLO: Art, Garden, Life. Zavala has published widely on Mexican art. Her book Becoming Modern, Becoming Tradition: Women, Gender, and Representation in Mexican Art (Penn State University Press, 2010) was awarded the Arvey Prize by the Association for Latin American Art in 2011. She has also curated several exhibitions, including Lola Alvarez Bravo: The Photography of an Era, shown at the Diego Rivera Studio Museum, Mexico City (2010); the Museum of Latin American Art, Long Beach, California (2011); and in expanded form at the Center for Creative Photography, Tucson, Arizona (2013); and Mexico Beyond Its Revolution for the Tufts University Art Gallery, Medford, Massachusetts (2010).
FRIDA KAHLO: Art, Garden, Life is The New York Botanical Garden’s next installation within the ambitious exhibition program created to explore the gardening lives of cultural figures such as Charles Darwin, Emily Dickinson, and Claude Monet and the intersection of art and nature—an approach that had never been executed at a botanical garden. These comprehensive flower shows in the Haupt Conservatory re-create their gardens and are accompanied by exhibitions in the Mertz Library’s Art Gallery. 


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