Oleander, marigolds, palms, cacti, jacaranda, sunflowers, succulents…in the Bronx? FRIDA KAHLO: Art, Garden, Life at the New York Botanical Garden (NYBG) is an attempt to create a blockbuster exhibition. Standing at a bus stop in NYC, there is no escape. The ad for the Frida Kahlo show is everywhere. It’s inescapable. “Transport yourself to Mexico without leaving New York via live music, dance, food, and a complimentary cerveza or margarita.” Some have called it Fridamania. Since her death, Kahlo’s poplularity has grown exponentially. For me, Kahlo’s persona is far greater than her paintings. Her garden at Casa Azul is a different story.
Kahlo’s garden was everything anyone who has been to Mexico loves…the colors, the plants, the light. In Kahlo’s case, not only was the garden all of the above; it was also the garden of an artist with an eye for combining color, texture and shape; all planted in a context of pre-Hispanic art.
The question for the NYBG was how to create context in The Haupt Conservatory. This is where the show went wrong. I admire the amount of time, energy, scholarship and staging that went into this exhibition. It was probably years in the making. Ultimately, the architecture of the conservatory works against the show. Putting together a row of cactus and painting a low wall that incredible Mexican blue is a failed attempt to give the visitor a feeling for what Kahlo wanted to convey.
I’ve asked myself what would I have done differently. The slavish adherence to an idea can sometimes be its downfall. I’ve thought about what contemporary artist NYBG could have hired to design this exhibition. An artist, who would have been in sympathy with her ideas and translated her intentions into something new and fresh.
What would Christo and Jeanne Claude done in this space? Bruce Maunro? Yayoi Kusama? I like to dream about the possibilities.