Frida Kahlo: Art, Garden, Life

Dates and Venue October10, 2016 through May 30, 2017 | Tucson Botanical Gardens, Tucson, AZ

Reviewer Patricia Cassidy

Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird
Photo courtesy of
Tucson Botanical Gardens

One of the most joyful things about entering the Frida Kahlo: Art, Garden, Life exhibit currently on view at the Tucson Botanical Gardens is the riot of lush colors that await you. Painted walls of gorgeous, vibrant colors - Frida Blue and Diego Red, a specific yellow and green (all created especially for the exhibit) plus the mass of marigolds and cacti set against the backdrop of a perfect blue sky on a hot day in Tucson were very inviting.

Designed by one of the world’s premier botanical gardens, the New York Botanical Gardens (who experienced a record setting, blockbuster run of the event in 2015) the Tucson Botanical Gardens were selected as the only other institution to host this exhibit.

Frida Kahlo is of course famous as an iconic, feminist Mexican artist and the exhibit evokes the garden at La Casa Azul, the house where she was born (now a museum in Mexico celebrating the life and work of Kahlo) but where she and her husband Diego Rivera spent most of their married life – building, collecting and creating.

The exhibit focuses on Frida’s life via iconic installations, rare photographs, a rebuild of her studio, the items she and Rivera collected, and the native clothing Kahlo eventually adopted as a source of national pride. The Casa Azul and Rivera’s Meso-American-inspired pyramid he built in the central courtyard of Casa Azul is a highlight and used to showcase a diverse collection of cacti and succulents native to the deserts of Mexico and the Southwestern United States.

Many of us are familiar with her paintings which often include animals, flowers, butterflies and native plants, but seeing the reproduced garden makes you realize how much the natural world deeply inhabited her life. Her famous painting “Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird” - a complicated picture rife with symbolism and full of plants, flowers, butterflies, a monkey and cat show how the boundaries between the natural world and herself are fused together. The thorn necklace around her throat we can only imagine was a statement re her emotional and physical pain at that time.

We started off our tour of the exhibit by checking out Humberto Spindola’s sculpture reproduction of “The Two Fridas” - her famous 1939 self- portrait oil painting of her two selves with different clothing re her mixed heritage and made from paper (Many of the clothes Kahlo depicted in her paintings were real garments that she owned and wore on a regular basis). The clothes on display, despite their realistic appearance, are made from amate paper using a traditional Aztec technique.

We then walked through the gardens and checked out the identified Mexican plants and native flora that would have been a part of Frida’s surroundings in central Mexico where she lived. Then on to the pyramid, her work area and the educational section which gave a lot of information of the time in which she lived – political and social.

This Gardens are chock full of information and if you love art and are interested in a more fleshed-out approach to an artist’s life you will love this exhibit. It is an exhibit for everyone – not just the installation but poetry, lectures through April of 2017, a kids section, lots of information on central Mexico. From now until May is a wonderful time to visit Tucson - Go!

© 2016 Patricia Cassidy