8. The Public’s Vote is in: The Frida Exhibit Kahlo Beats Monet and Moore
The cactus known as El Viejito, or little old man, was the favorite of Kahlo’s lover, Leon Trotsky.
The NYBG’s 2008 exhibition, Moore in America, was a blockbuster. Its 2012 exhibit, Monet’s Garden, was its most successful ever, attracting some 373,000 visitors. But Kahlo is on track for 500,000+, says Nicholas Leshi, Director of Public Relations. The Metz Library offers a room of Kahlo’s paintings and an excellent presentation on Mexico City’s architecture, planning, and neighborhoods. The Haupt displays an abstract of Kahlo’s house, Casa Azul, along with many of her plantings.
The NYBG has brilliantly combined its academic approaches with extracurricular activities, like poetry readings, lectures, fabulous bands, flower demonstrations, and Frida lookalike contests. New Yorkers flock to the garden, streaming in when the gates open for Frida Al Fresco evenings.
The NYBG reimagined the cactus fence planted by Kahlo and Diego River to protect Casa Azul.
Still, many visitors will be taken aback by the dead hummingbird and the necklace of thorns (reminiscent of the crown of thorns) around Frida’s neck. Death is always part of her art. “I paint flowers so they will not die,” Kahlo once said. The writer Carlos Fuentes called her a pantheist who was in love with the world as garden, “with everything that was alive.” He added, “She wants to sacrilize everything she touches.” To a North American sensibility Kahlo’s obsession with life and death may seem eccentric, but in the context of the garden the obsession becomes normal. A garden is all about life, death, sustainability, and regeneration. She also wrote, “Nothing is absolute. Everything changes, everything moves, everything revolves, everything flies and goes away.” This is as true of a garden as it is of life. Indeed, it is one of NYBG’s ongoing dilemmas as it works to conserve its landscape, including its old-growth forest.