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Frida Kahlo was an art-historical icon whose own best subject was herself. And there was much about her life that needed to be dealt with, creatively and otherwise. At age 18, she was the victim of a collision between a bus she was riding and a trolley car, leaving her with broken bones, a shattered spinal column and internal injuries to her uterus, which made it impossible for her to have children (over the course of her life, she miscarried three times). Her husband, the Mexican muralist Diego Rivera, was a frequent philanderer, and she returned the favor by having affairs of her own, with both men and women. Kahlo was both open and unsure about her bisexuality, an ambivalence unlikely to have contributed positively to a marriage that was hurtful and co-dependent. Such drama naturally lent itself to art. But a major motif running throughout her work—one that often provided metaphors for her travails—was her use of botanical imagery. She went so far as to maintain an ornate garden beside her studio as a source of inspiration. Now that relationship is being explored in a show at the New York Botanical Garden, which presents both her plant-theme paintings and a replica of her garden, which includes a desk she used to work outdoors. It reveals a connection between art and a life writ as large as nature itself.
“Frida Kahlo: Art. Garden. Life.” opens May 16 at the New York Botanical Garden.