Lee’s film yields a “complex and multilayered” account which she hopes will instruct her daughter, and future generations of girls, about the struggle that preceded them.
Neurosurgeon Ben Carson doesn’t see global warming as a concern because, “There’s always going to be either cooling or warming going on.”
One might think that as the subject of innumerable books, a Hollywood movie, and status as a feminist and artistic icon, there wouldn’t be anything more to add to the conversation on Frida Kahlo. However, the recently opened exhibit at the New York Botanical Garden entitled, “Frida Kahlo: Art, Garden, Life” is proof to the opposite.
The New York Botanical Garden, located in the Bronx, has previously presented shows that delve into an examination of public figures and their connections to nature and gardens. The subjects were Charles Darwin, Emily Dickinson, and Claude Monet.
With the Kahlo exhibit, visitors not only experience what the staff has termed “an evocation” of the artist’s garden at the Casa Azul (Blue House), they have the opportunity to view artworks by Kahlo that specifically reference her relationship to the natural world.
Over two years in planning, a top-notch team was assembled to bring veracity to a replicated environment. Todd Forrest, Vice President for Horticulture and Living Collections, spoke about efforts to “create a sense of place.” Kahlo’s vegetation imagery was “rendered with botanical specificity,” noted Forrest, who pointed out her “sophisticated understanding of plants.”
Adriana Zavala, Ph.D, was tapped to be the guest curator. Author of Becoming Modern, Becoming Tradition: Women, Gender, and Representation in Mexican Art, Zavala brought a specific sensibility to her focus. Moving away from the drama of Kahlo’s life and loves, her goal was to have attendees see Kahlo through “her plants and house,” and to comprehend her as the “exuberant, deeply intelligent” intellectual that she was. Zavala spoke of Kahlo’s work as being “charming and challenging — reflecting a sharp wit.” Qualifying Kahlo’s home as an “extension of her personal cosmology,” Zavala said, “There are still things to learn about Kahlo.”
Leading several trips to Mexico, Zavala steered the exhibition team to resources needed for immersion in the sphere of all things Kahlo. This included researching archival materials and photographs of the garden at the time it was being developed. Scott Pask, a Broadway design veteran, implemented his digested analysis to formulate the “scenic design” he then staged in the Bronx. One of his stunning contributions was translating the organ cactuses situated at Kahlo’s and Rivera’s home In San Ángel to an “organ cactus wall” abutting the outside of the Courtyard Garden.
Kahlo’s husband, Diego Rivera, is sharply felt in the Casa Azul, specifically in a regeneration of the pyramid that Rivera had built to house his pre-Hispanic collection. This structure is front and center, with each individual step showcasing flowering plants and and a vast array of succulents and cactuses.
The Mexican pots were hand-dyed with tea and coffee to capture the exact hue sought by Francisca Coelho, who designs and installs the major exhibitions in the Conservatory. At the base of the pyramid, are additional specimens.
In the Casa Azul setting, we see Kahlo’s work table with paints, brushes, and books on botany. She regularly pressed flowers and leaves in the pages of her volumes of reading material. It was not surprising to learn that she observed specimens of insects and plants through her father’s microscope.
Another feature of the exhibit is an installation by artist Humberto Spindola. Originated at the Museo Frida Kahlo in 2009, Spindola used the painting, Two Fridas, (1939) a quintessential Kahlo oil on canvas, as the premise for his creation. Building mannequins structured from reeds, hemp, yarn, and wax, and dressing them in acid-free tissue paper colored with special pigments, Spindola incorporates traditional Mexican folk art techniques to fabricate the dresses from the painting. Kahlo’s two outfits, one of European derivation and the other from her mother’s region of Oaxaca, share equal power in the balanced halves of Kahlo’s personal character.
In a performance piece, two male models in wearable versions of the clothing, walked in opposite directions circling the sculpture. The use of men to embody both Fridas operates as a subtle nod to Kahlo’s fluid sexuality.
The daughter of a marriage between a German father and a Mexican mother of Spanish and indigenous descent, Kahlo strongly identified with the melding and fusion of disparate cultures — particularly as they evolved toward a new nationality unity. This concept was encompassed in Kahlo’s work as a manifestation of unified differences: the Mesoamerican and the European, the sexual and the emotional, the life force and the decay of death.
Duality and “hybridity,” as Zavala repeatedly underscored, are primary in Kahlo’s world outlook. With these premises in mind, Zavala made her selection for the paintings and works on paper in the LuEsther T. Mertz Library’s Art Gallery. It is this backstory and the context of Kahlo’s horticultural passions that inform a reading of her fourteen showcased works.
Small Life (II) is an observational watercolor that records organic forms scrutinized by Kahlo. At the time she signed this piece, Kahlo used the German spelling of her first name.
The Preparatory Sketch for Portrait of Luther Burbank is displayed in tandem with the resulting oil painting. Burbank was a horticulturalist who pioneered food development through grafting and cross-breeding. In the drawing, there are literal items referencing Burbank’s work, such as hands planting seeds and wielding a spade. Burbank rises from a tree trunk, while the roots envelop a corpse-like figure. (He was actually buried under a tree in his garden.) The painting is simplified, with greater emphasis on the cycles of growth and decomposition, along with imagery commemorating Burbank’s achievements.
The lithograph Frida and the Miscarriage is a diaristic recounting of Kahlo’s angst about her lost pregnancy, imbued with her knowledge of biology that came from her early medical studies. The child that might have been is rendered in totality, down to the male genitalia.
Two Nudes in a Forest is emblematic of the ongoing theme in Kahlo’s pictorial vocabulary of her European and Mexican roots. Set off to the left of the canvas, rather than centered, the sky and the knotted branches have a foreboding aspect. As in other paintings, it is the Mexican figure that is nurturing and giving succor.
Securing the widely reproduced Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird (which is also the face of all the exhibition’s material), was a major coup. It is always a revelation to see, in person, a work well-known through reproduction. In this contemplative presentation of self, Kahlo brings into the picture plane personal iconography through the use of favored pets and plants. Situating herself in front of a curtain of huge elephant ear leaves with various veined patterns, Kahlo places an animal at each shoulder. The monkey appears almost childlike. It is engaged in its own thought process, while examining Kahlo’s necklace — which recalls Christ’s crown of thorns. The black cat, in a stalking position reminiscent of a leopard about to pounce, is watchful and protective. Despite the allusion to pain and mortality that radiates from the lower two-thirds of the painting (including the inert hummingbird), the delicately rendered butterfly pins in Kahlo’s hair and the fused winged insects and flowers suggest hope. Their palette tonalities tie in with Kahlo’s shirt, as well as the lone white leaf behind Kahlo’s head — speaking to her unique individuality.
A group of still life paintings from 1951-1953, the last years of Kahlo’s life, are intense studies of fruits and vegetables that emphasize seeds, ripeness, sexuality, and fecundity. Inserted are totems and objects from Mexican culture from a miniature flag to Kahlo’s favored hairless dog, the xoloitzcuintle, rendered here as a piece of pottery. Despite her failing health, Kahlo was firmly entrenched in capturing the vitality of life.
The New York Botanical Garden has supplemented the exhibition with programmed activities — music, dance, film, poetry, and lectures. There is a top-notch catalogue (Included are photographs and information on relevant plants, with the American and Mexican names as well as the Latin nomenclature.) and a mobile guide. All labels are in English and Spanish.
The museum has projected that 300,000 visitors will experience the exhibit. With the riches to be discovered, that may prove to be a low estimate.
Frida Kahlo: Art, Garden, Life
New York Botanical Garden
Through November 1, 2015
The impact of an increasingly digitalized world has affected all areas of our lives, including the arts. As many creatives embrace new technology to enhance or supersede mediums that are centuries old, others continue to find inspiration in the tactility of pencil on paper, oil on canvas — or in the case of Ellen Weider, the technique of drypoint.
Weider has been engaged with the print medium for over thirty years. Her work is in the print collections of the New York Public Library, Rutgers Print Study Archive at the Zimmerli Museum, the Newark Library, and the Free Library of Philadelphia. Her solo exhibit at the Manhattan Graphics Center in Manhattan showcases twenty-five black and white prints.
Drypoint is a type of intaglio process, frequently used in combination with etching and acquatint. The former presents line, and the latter creates areas of tonality. Weider uses solely drypoint. With a diamond point stylus, she achieves a range of depth and density by her manipulation of the metal burrs raised by her incisions on copper plates. For those familiar with the world of printmaking, Weider’s offerings bring to mind the anticipation of seeing how incised lines will translate after a proof is pulled. By making a decision to leave a definitive plate tone, Weider ensures that all native markings endemic to the plate remain intact. These elements add an additional layer to the final imagery.
The majority of Weider’s plates are circular. This serves to stand either in contrast to rectangular and angular constructs, or as a repetitive iteration of spherical elements within.
Top motifs for Weider embrace the use of organic forms that speak to the mysteries of nature, and an ongoing vocabulary of geometric, architectural, and personal iconography.
In To-Do, Weider places an oval shape containing concentric lines within the lower two-thirds of the space. The black furry dots, when viewed en masse, read less as pattern and more as components of a unit larger than themselves. There is a compulsive, repetitive quality. In their sameness, they yield an individuality of the whole — resembling a slide viewed under a microscope or an enlarged fingerprint.
New Year suggests the cross-section of a plant or fruit form. A distinct three-dimensionality emanates from the central flat core to the edges, which resemble a raised beaded border. The result has a meditative quality, as well as the stimulation of optical illusion.
Drypoint on Rives BFK
15” x 11”
In The Plan, Weider combines signature symbols into one composition. Three are pure line, the fourth is shaded. The bed, chair, and staircase record elemental objects that in Weider’s hands become mysterious and laden with metaphor. Repeatedly, the pictograms co-exist with a visual background that originates from the plate’s unpolished surface.
Drypoint on Rives BFK
22″ x 15″
That Way invites the viewer to contemplate a modern riff on formal structure — both ancient and contemporary — that we interact with every day. Whether a reflection on the staircases the Mayans built to the gods, a way out of the depths to a higher place, or just as basic building blocks of rectangle upon rectangle — Weider mines the subconscious, both hers and the observer’s.
With a sensibility similar to Elizabeth Murray’s preoccupation with an examination of domestic objects, Weider’s terrain is repeatedly populated with diaristic contemplations of ordinary furniture: dressers, chairs, tables, beds. Frequently there is something off about them. They are presented in an isolated, existential setting, stripped of their utility — as if objects in a dream. In Wish List, Weider places totemic hieroglyphics onto the façade of a chest of drawers. A series of scratchings evocative of the female body inhabit the center panel.
Drypoint on Rives BFK
15” x 11”
The nervous energy and quirky, tactile lines of Expand reference the ironic humor of a New Yorker cartoon. Contained within the impression, here is a chair without a sitter. Weider has conveyed the absurdity and ordinariness of every day life.
A companion piece, Balance, offers the viewer another piece of ambiguous minimalist furniture — a table without a fourth leg. The subtext hovers between a metaphysical interpretation of a concrete structure and the question of, “When is a table just a table?”
Weider — like all artists — dating back to those who scrawled the first primal characters on a cave wall, demonstrates the desire to visually narrate her thought process, and to comment on the world around her.
The immediacy and spontanaiety of the drypoint process has served her well.
A new study has come to my attention. It proposes that air pollution may impact mental health. The BMJ published a paper that examined whether “higher past exposure to particulate air pollution is associated with prevalent high symptoms of anxiety.”
Melinda C. Power, based at John Hopkins University, was the lead author on the report. Using data on over 70,000 women between 57 and 85 years old, the Nurses’ Health Study had participants answer an anxiety survey comprised of eight questions. The conclusions found, “Exposure to fine particulate matter (PM2.5) was associated with high symptoms of anxiety.”
However, Power noted that there could be other explanations. Her research took into account other potential causalities, including if women had lung or heart illnesses, or if they resided in big cities.
As an urban dweller, I may finally have something to pin my personal angst on.
When I moved out of Manhattan to a more bucolic borough, I thought my daily exposure to air pollution would be lessened. Unfortunately, I picked an apartment building right off of a major parkway. Fine particulate matter comes from car exhaust, and the smaller the particles the easier it is for them to get into the lungs.
The funny thing is that I know that air pollution is impacting my mental health, just not in the way the study suggested…
Recent shortness of breath and palpitations began when Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) took over the Chair of the Environmental and Public Works Committee (EPW). Then Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) decided that he was going to spearhead an effort to encourage states to be non-compliant with the EPA, in an effort to derail the Clean Power Plan put into play by the Obama administration. Invoking the rallying cry of a “War on Coal” and the subtext that clean air is at odds with a thriving economy, he sent a letter to state governors. While McConnell was busy rounding up states to join him, he apparently missed the bulletin that air pollution can impact developing babies while they are still in the womb.
On a day the weather turned a bit warmer and the snow began to melt, I opened a window — inadvertently welcoming particle pollution into my home. That same week, I was already feeling nervous after listening to Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) duking it out with EPA administrator Gina McCarthy about droughts and the “moisture content of soil” worldwide. Dissatisfied with her responses, he wrote her a missive complaining that he hadn’t received direct answers, and “many responses contained caveats and conditions.” He requested additional “models” employed by the EPA to predict climate change. Others co-signed the communiqué, including Inhofe — after he put down his snowball.
Despite Power’s findings, I still think my anxiety can be attributed to causes beyond particle pollution.
I have frequent and disruptive fear. I’m frightened because sea lions off the coast of California have been dying in unprecedented numbers due to climate change. My scalp tingles when I look at the image of a polar bear clinging to a piece of Arctic ice smaller than my bathroom. Then there was the mice study showing that “breathing high levels of ozone could impact women’s fertility.”
When The New England Journal of Medicine reported in March, “Reduced air pollution benefits lung health in children” I noticed that my symptoms eased up. Yet as soon as I read Sen. Lamar Alexander’s (R-Tenn.) statement about the President’s message on greenhouse gas emissions goals and international negotiations, I felt queasy. “The Obama administration’s national energy policy is practically a national windmill policy,” he said.
Every day is a seesaw of emotions. Just when I was feeling elated that India and China have come to the realize they better work on their air pollution problems sooner rather than later, back in the United States, Sen. Rob Portman (R-KY) put forth a budget amendment to allow each state to “opt out” from the federal clean air regulations in the Clean Air Act.
All right. I have to admit it. I can’t blame all my anxiety on what I’m breathing in the air.
I have to attribute it to the fact that fossil fuel big business, their supporters in the Congress, and the money men like the Koch brothers (who sponsor newspaper “editorials”) are going to do everything in their power to prevent regulations that would impact climate change.
A poll conducted by The New York Times, Stanford University, and Resources for the Future shows that climate deniers are out of touch with 83 percent of Americans, including 61 percent of Republicans who believe that global warming is becoming a serious problem. Ironically, 74 percent of Americans believe the federal government should be doing “a substantial amount to combat climate change.”
I have a horrible feeling that my anxiety isn’t going away any time soon.
This article originally appeared on Moms Clean Air Force
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