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istock (background) / Frida Kahlo (Painting)
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15 Things You Should Know About Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird

istock (background) / Frida Kahlo (Painting)
istock (background) / Frida Kahlo (Painting)

Surrealist painter Frida Kahlo has been called one of Mexico's greatest artists because of her brutal and revealing self-portraits. Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird is her most popular, and also one that contains many tokens of her life and work. 

1. It is one of 55 self-portraits Kahlo painted in her lifetime.

Though she'd go on to make 143 paintings in her life, Kahlo was best known for her reflective self-portraits that laid bare the tragedies she'd endured. Explaining her penchant for the style, Kahlo said, "I paint myself because I am so often alone, because I am the subject I know best."

2. Its creation was part of Kahlo's coping ritual.

Bedbound while recovering from a grisly streetcar accident, a young Kahlo taught herself to paint. Over the years, it became her habit to paint a portrait of herself whenever she was troubled.

These self-portraits have often been described as surreal, but the groundbreaking artist answered such comments with, "They thought I was a Surrealist, but I wasn’t. I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality."

3. Her divorce prompted this self-portrait.

In 1929, Kahlo wed fellow Mexican painter Diego Rivera. The couple's 10-year marriage was tumultuous; Kahlo and Rivera became notorious for their constant fighting and frequent infidelity. It's believed the thorn necklace piercing Kahlo's neck reflects the pain she was experiencing over this separation. 

4. It was purchased by her ex-lover.

Rivera wasn't the only love Kahlo left in 1939. She'd also split from photographer Nickolas Muray, who purchased Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird when Kahlo was struggling financially.

5. Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird may be blasphemous.

Art historians note that Kahlo's simple white frock hints at martyrdom, while the thorn necklace can be seen as a reference to Jesus's crown of thorns, worn as he dragged his cross to be crucified. The butterflies on Kahlo's head have been interpreted as symbols of her own personal resurrection, leading some to believe that Kahlo is comparing herself directly to Jesus Christ.

6. Its hummingbird is a symbol of hope …

Clearly painted during a dark time in her life, Kahlo shows her wish for love renewed with the little bird dangling from her necklace of thorns. In Mexican culture, the hummingbird is a symbol of good luck—but notice the black cat ready to pounce.

Kahlo's painting proved to be eerily prescient when she remarried Rivera in December of 1940. The couple's marital troubles continued. Of their love, Kahlo once said, "I have suffered two grave accidents in my life, one in which a streetcar knocked me down ... The other accident is Diego."

7. … Or a symbol of war.

Kahlo often blended elements from Mexican and Aztec culture into her work. So an alternate interpretation of Kahlo's hummingbird pendant is as a symbol of Huitzilopochtli, the Aztec god of war. Perhaps the weight of this symbol, this battle, is what makes Kahlo bleed.

8. That monkey might symbolize Kahlo's ex-husband.

The monkey on her back—as it were—is frequently believed to be a symbol for Rivera. Some say he'd given one to Kahlo as a pet. Others suggest the primate symbolizes their tormented romance—after all, the monkey is the one tugging the thorn necklace tight enough to make its wearer bleed. 

9. Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird is an ancestor to the selfie.

While the self-snapped smartphone picture is commonly derided as the product of narcissism, art critic Jerry Saltz has claimed selfies are just the latest evolution in self-portraits. 

10. It—like the rest of her work—has gotten more famous since her passing.

When Kahlo died on July 13, 1954, she was acclaimed in her native Mexico, but not widely known internationally. However, about twenty years later, Neomexicanismo art caught on. This surrealist brand of Mexican culture brought Kahlo and her gorgeous and provocative self-portraits into the spotlight. With each retrospective, her reputation grew, until her depictions of herself in pieces like Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird became iconic. 

11. Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird travels often.

Since 1966, Kahlo's cryptic masterpiece has called the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas in Austin home. But since 1990, the University has been generous in lending the piece out to other galleries, both domestic and abroad. It has visited Australia, Canada, Germany, Austria, France, Spain, Mexico, and Rome, as well as Philadelphia, Los Angeles, and New York City.

12. It returned to Austin for Kahlo's 104th birthday.

After visiting nearly 30 museums around the world, Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird was put back on display at the Harry Ransom Center on July 6, 2011.

13. The self-portrait has its own rider.

A rock star in its own right, Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird requires certain guarantees before being lent out. Among these is a personal courier from the HRC to oversee its travel, its own seat on a plane should the painting be flown, and assurances that the security at the destination is "stringent." Every time it returns it does so in a special vehicle, before being carefully assessed for wear.

14. The painting helped break attendance records in Rome.

In 2014, Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird was displayed as part of a Kahlo exhibit in the Scuderie del Quirinale inside the historic Quirinal Palace. Over the course of five months, there was a massive surge in attendance at the museum, which averaged over 2,000 visitors a day thanks to this painting and its sisters. 

15. Today, it's featured in a garden show.

Much of Kahlo's work has been inspired by her barbed relationship with Rivera. So too have many of Kahlo's exhibitions, at which Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird has played centerpiece. But it's her love of nature and her green thumb that are the focus of "Frida Kahlo: Art, Garden, Life." The show includes a selection of Kahlo's paintings, as well as a dedicated recreation of her famed garden and studio at the Casa Azul, her home and constant muse. You can see it through November 1 at the New York Botanical Garden.

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15 Things You Didn't Know About The Persistence Of Memory

Salvador Dalì's The Persistence of Memory is the eccentric Spanish painter's most recognizable work. You have probably committed its melting clocks to memory—but you may not know all that went into its making.

1. THE PERSISTENCE OF MEMORY WAS PAINTED IN THE MIDST OF A HALLUCINATION.

Around the time of the painting’s 1931 creation, Dalì perfected his "paranoiac-critical method." The artist would attempt to enter a meditative state of self-induced psychotic hallucinations so that he could make what he called "hand-painted dream photographs."

“I am the first to be surprised and often terrified by the images I see appear upon my canvas," Dalì wrote, referring to his unusual routine. "I register without choice and with all possible exactitude the dictates of my subconscious, my dreams.”

2. IT'S SMALLER THAN YOU MIGHT EXPECT.

The Persistence of Memory is one of Dalì's philosophical triumphs, but the actual oil-on-canvas painting measures only 9.5 inches by 13 inches.

3. THE PAINTING MADE THE 28-YEAR-OLD ARTIST FAMOUS.

Dalì began painting when he was 6 years old. As a young man, he flirted with fame, working with Spanish filmmaker Luis Buñuel on his groundbreaking shorts Un Chien Andalou and L'Age d'Or. But Dalì’s big break didn’t come until he created his signature surrealist work. The press and the public went mad for him when The Persistence of Memory was shown at the Julien Levy Gallery in New York City in 1932.

4.THE PERSISTENCE OF MEMORY STAYED IN NEW YORK THANKS TO AN ANONYMOUS DONOR.

After its gallery show, a patron bought the piece and donated it to the Museum of Modern Art in 1934. It’s been a highlight of MoMA's collection for more than 80 years.

5. OTHER SURREALISTS PUT HIM ON TRIAL.

Though Dalì had become the most famous surrealist painter in the world, André Breton, the founder of surrealism, gave him the boot over concerns about Dalì’s alleged support of fascism. At his ousting from the Bureau for Surrealist Research, the loose network of surrealist artists and philosophers headed by Breton, Dalì declared, "I myself am surrealism."

6. EINSTEIN'S THEORIES MAY HAVE INFLUENCED DALÌ.

The Persistence of Memory has sparked considerable academic debate as scholars interpret the painting. Some critics believe the melting watches in the piece are a response to Albert Einstein's theory of relativity. In her book Dalì and Surrealism, critic Dawn Ades writes, "the soft watches are an unconscious symbol of the relativity of space and time."

7. DALÌ'S EXPLANATION WAS CHEESIER.

Dalì declared that his true muse for the deformed clocks was a wheel of Camembert cheese that had melted in the sun. As Dalì considered himself and his persona an extension of his work, the truthfulness of his response is also up for debate.

8. ITS LANDSCAPE COMES FROM DALÌ'S CHILDHOOD.

Dalì's native Catalonia had a major influence on his works. His family's summer house in the shade of Mount Pani (also known as Mount Panelo) inspired him to integrate its likeness into his paintings again and again, like in View of Cadaqués with Shadow of Mount Pani. In The Persistence of Memory, the shadow of Mount Pani drapes the foreground, while Cape Creus and its craggy coast lie in the background.

9. THE PAINTING HAS A SEQUEL (SORT OF).

In 1954, Dalì revisited the composition of The Persistence of Memory for a new work, The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory. Alternately known as The Chromosome of a Highly-coloured Fish's Eye Starting the Harmonious Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory, the oil-on-canvas piece is believed to represent Dalì's prior work being broken down to its atomic elements.

10. BETWEEN PAINTING THESE TWO WORKS, DALÌ'S OBSESSIONS SHIFTED.

Though the subjects of The Persistence of Memory and The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory are the same, their differences illustrated the shifts that took place between periods of Dalì's career. The first painting was created in the midst of his Freudian phase, when Dalì was fascinated by the dream analysis pioneered by Sigmund Freud. By the 1950s, when the latter was painted, Dalì's dark muse had become the science of the atomic age.

"In the surrealist period, I wanted to create the iconography of the interior world—the world of the marvelous, of my father Freud," Dalì explained. "I succeeded in doing it. Today the exterior world—that of physics—has transcended the one of psychology. My father today is [theoretical physicist] Dr. Heisenberg."

11. FREUD RECIPROCATED DALÌ'S ADMIRATION.

Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, was not a fan of the surrealists, whom he felt were too conscious of the art they were making and didn't understand his theories. Dalì was the exception. When the two met in 1938, Dalì was giddily sketching a portrait of his 82-year-old idol when Freud whispered, "That boy looks like a fanatic." The comment delighted Dalì, as did Freud's suggestion that his The Metamorphosis of Narcissus would be of value to the study of psychoanalysis. Freud later said, "I have been inclined to regard the surrealists as complete fools, but that young Spaniard with his candid, fanatical eyes and his undeniable technical mastery, has changed my estimate."

12.THE PERSISTENCE OF MEMORY MAY BE A SELF-PORTRAIT.

The floppy profile at the painting's center might be meant to represent Dalì himself, as the artist was fond of self-portraits. Previously painted self-portraits include Self-Portrait in the Studio, Cubist Self-Portrait, Self-Portrait with "L' Humanité" and Self-Portrait (Figueres).

13. THERE WERE MORE MELTING CLOCKS TO COME.

In the 1970s, Dalì revisited his squishy timepieces in sculptures like Dance of Time I, II, & III; Nobility of Time, and Profile of Time. He also included them in lithographs.

14. THE PERSISTENCE OF MEMORY HAS ALIASES.

The masterpiece is also known as Soft Watches, Droopy Watches, The Persistence of Time, and Melting Clocks.

15. THE PAINTING HAS BECOME INGRAINED IN POP CULTURE.

The Persistence of Memory has been referenced on television in The Simpsons, Futurama, Hey Arnold, Doctor Who, and Sesame Street. Likewise, it's been alluded to in the animated movie Looney Tunes: Back in Action, in the comic strip The Far Side, and in videogames like EarthBound and Crash Bandicoot 2: N-Tranced. It was even parodied to mock the NFL’s DeflateGate scandal.

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LaGuardia Airport Is Serving Up Personalized Short Stories to Passengers
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In between purchasing a neck pillow and a bag full of snacks, guests flying out of the Marine Air Terminal at New York City's LaGuardia Airport can now order up an impromptu short story. As Hyperallergic reports, Landing Pages is an art project that connects writers to travelers looking for short fiction written in the time it takes to reach their destination.

The kiosk was set up as part of the ArtPort Residency, a new collaboration between the Queens Council on the Arts and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which sponsors different art projects at the Marine Air Terminal for a few months at a time.

Artists Lexie Smith and Gideon Jacobs set up the inaugural project at the terminal earlier this month. To request a story from Landing Pages, travelers can visit the kiosk and leave their flight number and contact information. While the passenger is in the air, Smith and Jacobs churn out a custom story, in the form of poetry, illustration, or prose, from their airport terminal workspace and send it out in time for it to reach the reader's phone before he or she lands.

The word count depends on the duration of the flight, and the subject matter often touches upon themes of travel and adventure. As Smith and Jacobs continue their residency through June 30, the pieces they complete will be made available at Landingpages.nyc and in hard copy form at the airport kiosk.

Landing Pages isn't the first airport service to offer à la carte short stories. In 2011, a French startup debuted its short story-dispensing vending machine at Paris's Charles de Gaulle Airport. Those stories come in three categories—one-minute, three-minute, and five-minute reads—and are printed out immediately so travelers can read them during their flight.

[h/t Hyperallergic]

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