Exhibition Spotlight: Frida Kahlo at the New York Botanical Gardens in Brooklyn
Frida Kahlo once said, “I paint myself because I am so often alone and because I am the subject I know best.” No wonder the iconic 20th century Mexican painter is best known for her self-portraits. In her long career as a painter, she painted no less than 55 candid portraits of herself, often subtly depicting her pain. But she also painted other people and the natural world in a haunting style reminiscent of surrealist art.
The exhibition titled “Frida Kahlo: Art, Garden, Life at the Botanical Gardens,” on display at the New York Botanical Garden from May 16 to November 1, 2015, explores her love for the beauty of the natural world and her appreciation of the relationship between nature and life. Featuring more than a dozen of her original paintings, this exhibition recreates the artist’s garden and studio at her home, La Casa Azul (The Blue House), in Mexico City, where she began and ended her life. Walking into the exhibition feels like walking into a painting, with bright, bold painted stone walls, desert cacti and flowers, and surreal details everywhere you turn.
Frida Kahlo was born on July 6, 1907 in Coyoacán, a neighborhood in Mexico City which was then a small town in the outskirt of the city. Her father, a photographer, was an immigrant from Germany and her mother, a housewife, was of mixed Amerindian and Spanish ancestry. The influence of mother’s Amerindian heritage is clearly visible in her work, which have often been labeled folk art or Naïve art. However, she was also close to her father.
Kahlo was beset by ill health all her life. When she was six, she contracted polio, which left her with a slightly thinner right leg. In 1925, the bus she was traveling in collided with a trolley car, leaving her with serious physical injuries that almost killed her and left her in pain all her life, which may be the reason she was so good at a subtle portrayal of physical and psychological pain in her art. While undergoing months’ of treatment, she began to paint portraits of herself. By the time she recovered, she had made up her mind to abandon her study of medicine to become a full time artist.
In 1927, she met the famous Mexican painter Diego Rivera to show him some of her paintings and to ask for his advice. They soon fell in love and married in 1929. Their marriage was often stormy and beset by a string of infidelities from both sides. The couple got divorced in November 1939, but remarried in December 1940. Despite their troubled marriage, Rivera had considerable influence on her painting style.
By the time she died on July 13, 1954, Kahlo had created over 140 paintings, along with dozens of drawings. When critics pointed out that her paintings had dreamlike characteristics, she insisted that “I never paint dreams, I paint my own reality”. But she didn’t get the kind of recognition she deserved during her lifetime, although she was celebrated like a movie star during her first solo exhibition in New York in 1938.
Besides her paintings, visitors can get an insight into her life and her influence on modern art and culture through lectures, music, Frida al Fresco evenings, Mexico-inspired shopping and dining experiences, and hand-on art activities for children. For anyone who is interested in the work of Frida Kahlo and Mexican art in general, a visit to the exhibition will be a delightful experience.