I adore the New York Botanical Garden for a lot of reasons. It’s truly an oasis above Manhattan, impeccably manicured and large enough to forget you’re near, let alone in, a major city. It’s well-designed, with lots of old architecture and new structures, and the plants, from the tallest trees to the most delicate flowers, are fascinatingly beautiful. In spite of all this, I think their programming is what truly makes them stand out in New York, a place chock full of cultural institutions. The show Frida Kahlo: Art, Garden, Lifewas a perfect example of what I’m talking about. It’s long-closed (it ran from May 16 to November 1, 2015), but I wasn’t blogging at the time so I only had Instagram as a space to sing its praise (I’ll include links to those posts here so you can check them out in case you missed them!). It was, as I said then, phenomenal and highly photogenic, even on the overcast day we visited in early fall, so I think it’s worth a quick revisit here!
The New York Botanical Garden hosts one major exhibition a year (in the winter, they put on an adorable holiday train show and in the early spring, they host orchids). The show dedicated to Frida, the famed Mexican painter, was extensively planned–from the second you walked through the park’s wide entrance, there was a mural visible, a temporary bar with seating areas, and a gift shop teeming with brightly-colored imported merchandise (my poor wallet). The show itself unofficially had three parts: a plant-based one, an art-based one, and a food-based one (with lots of live entertainment mixed in all throughout its run).
The plant-based part was set up, as usual, in the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory. Here was a snapshot re-imagining of Frida’s Mexico City Casa Azul (“Blue House”), chiefly her studio and garden. Frida and her husband, muralist Diego Rivera, had worked extensively to personalize that space, filling it with artifacts, plants, and wildlife that in turn served as inspiration for much of Frida’s highly personal art. The show’s arrangers did an incredible job recreating the native atmosphere: there was a small but noisy fountain, traditional music playing, and lots of insects buzzing around (check out this video I posed on Instagram in an attempt to capture it). The physicality of everything was incredible, from the blue courtyard walls and lava rock paths to the scale version of a pyramid at Casa Azul and countless terracotta pots filled with the actual types of Mexican plants still found in her garden today.
The second part of the show included some of Frida’s actual art. Of course this can’t be displayed anywhere near the hot and damp greenhouse, so after another short walk (and subsequent elevator ride), we saw some paintings and sculptures in a small gallery in the LuEsther T. Mertz Library. Curators here again did a spectacular job, picking a few key paintings that really highlighted the artist’s relationship with the natural world (think lots of plants, animals, and cut fruit). They rounded things out with a modern installation inspired by one of her most famous paintings, Las dos fridas (“The Two Fridas”), some more information and photographs of Frida and the other places she lived and visited, and a showing of the 2002 biopic movie on the artist starring Selma Hayek.
I love spot-on dining options, and the NYBG delivered on that front too. We grabbed snacks at an adorably-themed food truck–think tacos and churros (actually some of the best I’ve ever had, with whipped cream and chocolate sauce they’re one of my many weaknesses). We also had an early sit-down dinner in a stunning new restaurant on property, the Hudson Garden Grill, which at the time featured a menu based on Frida’s own recipe book–but more on that tomorrow!
I loved, loved, loved the show–as you can probably tell!–and so did everyone else (it actually shattered NYBG visitor attendance records). Everything really was just right–they even had a highly interactive app/website, which I used it to make this fun selfie. Don’t despair if you missed it–the New York Botanical Garden knocks it out of the park every year, and 2016’s show Impressionism: American Gardens on Canvassounds pretty perfect too. It officially opens exactly one month from today (on May 14), so start planning a trip now!
New York Botanical Garden
2900 Southern Blvd
Bronx, NY 10458