Katonah Museum of Art
We love them. Their colors, forms, and aromas forever astonish and please. Through the centuries, flowers have inspired artists (and the rest of us) who marvel at Nature's bewitching gift.
This summer, from July 18th through October 3, 1999, the Katonah Museum of Art will present "WILDflowers", a beautiful and provocative exhibition that brings together over sixty works by 40 artists who depict, refer to, or use flowers in their creations. Organized by Susan H. Edwards, Ph.D., the Museum's executive director, the show demonstrates how contemporary artists use flowers to investigate a broad range of topics, from the simplicity of form to the seductive power of beauty and its potential for subversion.
The exhibition takes advantage of the literal and metaphorical meanings of the term wildflowers. Included are images of flowers that grow in an uncultivated state as well as representations that embrace the wild, frightening, and uncontrollable aspects of nature. Participating artists draw upon sources from art history, theory, literature, and popular culture. They work in various media including painting, sculpture, photography, ceramics, printmaking, collage, and video. WILDflowers includes work by John Alexander, Ross Bleckner, Deborah Brown, Gregory Crewdson, Nancy Davidson, Keith Edmier, Edward Giobbi, Robert Kushner, Frank Major, Amanda Means, Roxy Paine, Gary Schneider, Kiki Smith, Fred Tomaselli, and Jimmy Wright, among others.
Throughout history, flowers have been a recurring motif in art. The genre flourished in ancient Roman wall painting, northern European Renaissance and Baroque painting, French and American impressionism, and, more recently, in works by such artists as Georgia O'Keeffe, Andy Warhol, and Robert Mapplethorpe. Flowers have been painted on walls to extend the illusion of a garden. They have been used to symbolize attributes of the Virgin Mary during the Middle Ages, as lavish decoration and allegory during the Renaissance, as the subject of botanical interest during the Age of Reason, as a vehicle of pondering the mystery of life in the Far East, as a vehicle for studying light, color, and movement by 19th century Impressionists, and, in the late 19th-century, as a contrast to the effects of industrialism and urbanization.
"In WILDflowers, contemporary artists use flowers to take us to new levels of understanding," Ms. Edwards notes. "Their concerns include identity politics, mortality, transcendence, the spiritual in art, and the nature of representation." Nancy Davidson and Sally Apfelbaum give new meaning to traditional associations with the feminine. Donna Sharrett's delicate constructions of flower petals and hair serve as memorials to her late mother. Peggy Cyphers, Peter Hristoff, and Robert Kushner embrace the tension between flat surface and the eternity of space to address metaphysical issues. Fred Tomaselli, Ray Rapp, and Roxy Paine investigate the tine line between reality and artifice. The great abandon of passion is forcefully conveyed in the paintings of John Alexander.
"It may seem incongruous at the end of the 20th century for artists to turn to the familiarity and convention of flowers," Ms. Edwards writes in the exhibition brochure. "Ours is a culture, absorbed in technology and materialism, that is frequently at odds with nature," She adds that the beauty of flowers provides a welcome antidote to the complexity of out times.
From top to bottom: Roberto Juarez, Valeriana, I997, Mixed media on canvas, 39 7/16 x 39 7/16 inches, Courtesy of Robert Miller Gallery, New York; Robert Kushner, Wild Phlox Bouquet, 1997, Oil, acrylic, wood, and palladium leaf on canvas, 60 x 30 inches, Courtesy of DC Moore Gallery, New York
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Text and images courtesy of Katonah Museum of Art.
For further biographical information on selected artists cited in this article please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.
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