Miradas de Mujeres: Isabelle de Borchgrave and The World of Frida Kahlo, on view at Naples Art Institute through June 11, is a visual banquet—an immersive experience bursting with color, vibrant patterns and playful stagecraft. In the show, Belgian artist Isabelle de Borchgrave presents an exuberant take on the domestic life of Mexican painter Frida Kahlo. The show’s title, which translates to “women’s perspectives,” suggests a dialogue between the two artists through their shared joie de vivre.
When you step into the gallery space, a soundtrack plays honking cars, chirping birds and Spanish guitar playing, as you might hear from the artist’s famed Casa Azul home-turned-museum in Mexico City. A series of raised platforms feature three-dimensional environments Isabelle fabricated from vibrantly handpainted paper. “Paper is her medium, art is her language,” Naples Art Institute’s executive director and chief curator, Frank Verpoorten, says.
Isabelle took three years and more than 2 miles of paper to construct the exhibit, which comes to Naples as part of ¡ARTE VIVA!, Collier County’s yearlong celebration of Hispanic arts and culture. (Some of Miradas de Mujeres is also on view in Kapnick Hall at Naples Botanical Garden.) Frank first worked with Isabelle when he helped acquire her still-buzzed-about Fashioning Art from Paper show at Artis—Naples, The Baker Museum in 2019, during his tenure at the museum. He saw Miradas when the exhibition premiered at the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium last year and knew he had to bring the show here. Frank recreated the footprint of the Belgium show at Naples Art, working with two colleagues and a couple of Isabelle’s studio assistants to build the equally exuberant platforms and backdrops. “We couldn’t paint the walls, so Isabelle said, ‘No problem,’” Frank says. “Her team handpainted some wallpaper for us and sent it by FedEx.”
Going beyond the dark themes of psychological and physical torment often associated with Frida, the show focuses on the artist’s intimate life at home and her love for the folk art, textiles and vivid colors of her native country. “It’s Mexico through Frida’s eyes, if you can imagine that,” Frank says.
Several years ago, Isabelle—a style icon in her own right, who’s worked with Dior, Hermès and Lanvin—toured Frida’s famed Casa Azul and was inspired by the cobalt house and surrounding gardens, filled with native succulents, cacti and pepper plants. “What I discovered, and which delighted me, was her love of colors and fabrics and her joie de vivre,” Isabelle says.
Back in her studio, the self-taught artist twisted, folded, draped, pleated and handpainted matte Tykev and Sappi paper, and corrugated cardboard to recreate scenes of Frida’s home life. The show marks the first time the Belgian artist expanded from dresses and single items to full-scale paper rooms—a throwback to her days as an opera set designer.
Isabelle replicated the Talavera plates in Frida’s cupboard, her box of nearly 150 pastels (all individually rolled and painted), and the pre-Columbian statuary that Frida and her husband, muralist Diego Rivera, collected. The pieces dive into everything from how Frida did her hair to the ingredients that filled her kitchen. “The watermelon references Frida’s Viva la Vida painting,” Frank adds.
Every scene comes alive, as if the artist were inhabiting the rooms today. “[Her life] is often depicted from the perspective of this person who suffered so much pain and misery in her life, but she also overcame all that with her strength and love for beautiful things,” Frank says.
Fringed carpets anchor fully furnished rooms; parrots flutter around flowering jacaranda trees; Xoloitzcuintli dogs from her menagerie of pets climbs under tables; work overalls hang by a door waiting for the artist to head to the garden; and technicolor woven shawls hang against Frida’s embroidered blouses.
In front of the runway of Frida-inspired dresses, the team installed a bench, with pillows Isabelle made, for guests to sit and reflect. “I just want people to amuse themselves,” Frank says.