I attended a well-publicized exhibition at the New York Botanical Garden this past weekend. Unfortunately, the organization and aesthetic tone of “Frida Kahlo: Art, Garden, Life” was more artifice than art. The promise inherent in the first solo exhibition of the Mexican artist’s evocative work in New York City in over ten years was hardly… Read more »
I attended a well-publicized exhibition at the New York Botanical Garden this past weekend. Unfortunately, the organization and aesthetic tone of “Frida Kahlo: Art, Garden, Life” was more artifice than art. The promise inherent in the first solo exhibition of the Mexican artist’s evocative work in New York City in over ten years was hardly realized.
The NYBG diluted Kahlo’s singular, highly autobiographical art by framing it in the context of a massive, generic party. Among the cringe-worthy “attractions” were a taco food truck named Casa Azul, after her legendary studio in Mexico City, throngs of visitors wearing headpieces made of fake flowers (akin to the “thumb’s up” sponge sold at stadiums), and a couple in Mexican folk dress posing with visitors for “selfies” while barring entry to the building with the artwork.
Moreover, the unique opportunity to view Kahlo’s powerful paintings in the context of the plant life that figures significantly into her compositions (a fair assumption considering the venue) never materialized. The plants were located far from the artworks, in the conservatory (beyond the taco truck), on a tiered Mayan-inspired pyramid that one might find in a high-end Southwestern department store.
To view the artwork, visitors were directed to mount a succession of stairways within sterile corridors, an unannounced and prolonged journey to the sixth floor that prompted a lot of confused looks and illuminated nothing. Signs posted on the landings indicated that “physicians in Canada” recommend walking daily for optimal health (disconnected statements like this typified the disjointed show’s exhibition design itself, with school field trip-type visuals in one area focusing on Mexico City and haunting, sophisticated photographs of a young Kahlo in the anteroom to the art display).
Fortunately, it was impossible to alter the powerful experience of standing before the dozen or so paintings and drawings by the woman who generously shared with the viewer her painful, private world—wherein she graphically portrayed a miscarriage and the amputation of her leg, among other wounds—one that bore little resemblance to the portrait of the artist conjured by this show. Kahlo was born in 1907 and died in 1954; she married muralist Diego Rivera in 1929.
Image courtesy of The New York Botanical Garden.