ARTiculture: Where Flowers and Visual Art Unite
by Melissa Simpson
Frigid cold and seemingly endless bouts of snowfall did not stop The Philadelphia Horticultural Society (PHS) from turning The Philadelphia Convention Center into a Springtime inspired canvas. The Philadelphia Flower Show’s (PFS) 2014 theme, ARTiculture, blended the skills of floral designers and horticulturists with art work provided by museums from across the country, creating one of the most visually stunning exhibitions that the PHS has put on to date. PHS’s partnerships with art museums, such as The Philadelphia Museum of Art, The Brooklyn Museum, and The Smithsonian, provided inspiration to each flower exhibit.
The entrance of the ten-acre flower show was framed by three white archways that housed gargantuan red, yellow, and blue looping flower mobiles inspired by local artist Alexander Calder. Imposed on the adjacent side of the archways, the image of ornate gold frames transform whoever is standing beneath them into a living work of art. The set of mobiles hanging from the last archway serves not only as a floral sculpture, but also as a dance prop. Members from the California-based aerial dance troupe, BANDALOOP, climbed and twirled atop the sculpture and executed graceful dance moves while being suspended in mid-air.
Dozens of exhibits, large and small, took some sort of inspiration from the art world. Some floral displays were quite deliberate in the creation of their chosen piece, while others took the more understated route.
James Basson of Scape Design decided to be direct in his approach when taking inspiration from Albert Diato’s work, Untitled. The golden hue that exists as the background of the painting is brought to life by Basson’s use of tall, wheat colored prairie grass. The black circular shape in the painting that represents Diato’s love for the Mediterranean Sea is actualized as a large silver bowl.
The Penn Museum partnered with Hunter Hayes Landscape Design to create the Native American Voices exhibit. The indigenous influences are not immediately transparent. The actual geometric structures in the shape of the stone steps are reminiscent of the ancient pyramids that are peppered throughout the Americas. A stripe of blue-lite stones stretched across the second step emphasizes a common motif commonly found in Native American culture. Atop the miniature pyramid rested dark, leafy greens and red foliage that surrounded a young tree not yet in full bloom.
MODA Botanica took a visionary approach in their partnership with Storm King Art Center, one of the “worlds leading sculpture parks,” according to PHS. Their 500-acre piece of land is home to over 100 pieces of work by international artists. MODA took this opportunity to create nine scaled-down flower-based sculpture designs. The designs ranged from insect replicas made from some of the brightest red flowers seen in the entire show, to a ball of pastel colored pink, yellow, and purple roses partially enclosed by a nest of pussy willows.
The Brandywine River Museum and their collaborator, Stoney Bank Nurseries, won first place in landscape design thanks to their nod to Andrew Wyeth and his love for the Brandywine River. Complete with a running creek and tree limbs exported from along the actual river, the exhibit looks like a scene right out of one of Wyeth’s paintings, or better yet, The Brandywine River itself.
World-class museums and legendary visual artists were not the only ones that were to have their work reimagined in flowers. Student from schools such as Tyler, Moore, and PAFA had their work selected to be brought to flora and fauna life in flower settings. Saul High School for Agricultural Sciences imported their student-built shed into the flower show. Inside were dozens of flowers and succulents that the students had been growing throughout the course of the year.
The parallel between art and the outdoors was made clearer through the showcasing of Andy Warhol’s Flowers series, from the Bank Of America Collection. In the center of the show, visitors can take a gander at some of the most prolific works by the late artist.
The 2014 Flower Show was a host to dozens of breathtaking exhibits that, through partnerships with artists and florists, shed light on the connectivity between art and the plant world. The Philadelphia Horticultural Society took an unprecedented approach to The Philadelphia Flower Show by creating ARTiculture and allowing visitors to establish a new way of looking at the natural world.