My visit to Casa Azul, Frida Kahlo’s Mexico City home in which she was born, lived and died, was a trip to my own personal Mecca. I disregarded the “No Fotos Por Favor” sign and skulked the gardens, taking clandestine photos on a disposable box camera. My affection for Frida grew from girlhood; which my mom, also an artist, fostered by exposing me to Frida’s work at a young age. My mom bought me a “Hecho en Mexico” stickered, punched tin picture frame with a photo of Frida smoking a cigarette, only to discover when I opened the box that the well-meaning shop clerk had removed the image of Frida from the frame. I remember my mom calling the store, declaring: “I bought the frame because of that photo.” The photo, once reunited with the frame, hung on my bedroom wall like it was a faraway family member.
A lot of us have this kind of personal relationship with Frida. We are on a first name basis with her. The constant vulnerability present in her art, and willingness to expose her insides to us make her unique among other artists.
Believe it or not, there was a time before Frida stared back at us from a fridge magnet, and there was a self-portrait for every month of the calendar. There was a time when she was still a murky, mysterious figure, seated next to Diego; still just a wife, not yet internationally known for her art.
This is how photographer Nickolas Muray captures Frida, as a ravishingly beautiful woman, only more fantastical. His colorful photos, vibrant and bold, show Frida dancing the line between muse and artist. In Muray’s black and white photos she is just as unflinching as she represents herself in her own paintings, but she is also unburdened from being the direct subject in some his photos as she leans in sweetly towards her masterpiece "Two Fridas," and three Fridas look back at us or she holds a strange idol next to her face-averting her gaze. Nickolas Muray wasn’t just a friend, but also Frida’s lover for over a decade, and this undercurrent of intimacy is present in every image he took of her.
Etherton Gallery, with the generosity of MiMi Muray Levitt who allowed use of her grandfather’s photographs, has partnered with the Tucson Botanical Garden’s Porter Gallery to present Nickolas Muray’s photographs of Frida Kahlo which will be on display in tandem with the extraordinary exhibition "Frida Kahlo: Art, Garden Life." Both of these spectacular arrays will together be on display October 10-May 31, 2017.
Tucson Botanical Gardens is the only institution to receive this exhibition, which showcases the flora of Casa Azul’s inner plaza garden, outside of the New York Botanical Gardens. Years in the making, the exhibition debuted to a full Frida freak out in New York City this year. The exhibition’s success is largely in part to the golden touch of award winning scenic designer and University of Arizona graduate, Scott Pask. Pask, a visionary in his field ensured the exhibition would be heavy on the Coyoacan cool. The showcase of Frida’s beloved plant life demonstrates her knowledge and aesthetic appreciation of the plants that make just as much an appearance in her paintings, as she does herself.
And why not bring this exhibition to Tucson? Tucson, a city that embraces being a cultural cross section of the Sonoran Desert and all of it’s wily inhabitants, dares to disregard the borders between the United States and Mexico. Tucson is a town that any night of the week, not just during the annual All Souls Parade, you can find flower haired women promenading the streets. The Tucson Botanical Gardens, with their exceptional knowledge of desert plants, is the perfect home to care for these welcome snowbirds from New York City and outside of Mexico City, DF.
Both of these blockbuster exhibitions are sure to attract Frida fans regionally as it extends into 2017 with tours, lectures, special events and all that magical Kahlo energy.
Lex Gjurasic, is an artist originally from the mossy PacNW now drying out in the Sonoran Desert. She is one of those artists that friends send her stuff about Frida Kahlo with the sentiment; this made me think of you! She blogs about being an artist and you can find more about Lex and her work at alexandragjurasic.com.