Last weekend, I was immersed in flowers. Not literally. It’s not that time of year. Nor did I walk through a botanical garden. The flowers showed up in other ways: Flower Power, an exhibit at the Asian Art Museum, and The Artist’s Garden: American Impressionism and the Garden Movement, 1887-1920, a film by arts documentary maker Phil Grabsky of Exhibition on Screen.
Depending on the culture and the period, flowers have their own language. If you know the idiom, the plum blossom, the cherry blossom, the chrysanthemum, the lotus, the rose, and the tulip all tell a story.
Museums in San Francisco have been celebrating the anniversary of “The Summer of Love,” when some 100,000 persons converged on the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood in the summer of 1967. As one of the commemorations, Flower Power includes a variety of flower displays. For example, inspired by the ‘60s counterculture movement, Megan Wilson “interrupted” the cold concrete of Civic Center by painting Pop-ish blooms directly on sidewalks as well as on walls and floors inside the Asian Art Museum located on the plaza. In keeping with her Buddhist practice, “Flower Interruption” represents a conscious choice to create a temporary installation because, like everything else, flowers are ephemeral. In fact, much of her work no longer exists because it was never meant to be permanent.
For the installation "Yedoensis" fourth-generation printmaker Ayomi Yoshida focused her interest on the Yoshino cherry tree (Prunus x yedoensis). It has a long history connected to the Japanese tradition of viewing cherry blossoms in the spring. However, Yoshida has noticed that as the earth's temperature increases, the trees are flowering in March instead of April. She says, "I once believed that the coming of spring and the cherry blossoms would always happen, but lately I am less certain. Will there come a time when the trees fail to bloom?"
Yoshida worked with a team of volunteers and museum visitors for several weeks to affix thousands of woodblock-printed cherry blossoms on two-dimensional images of tree branches. In comparison, trees make an even greater effort to produce millions of blossoms each year, only to drop them all in a matter of days. Another instance of transience.
Flowers have long been symbolic not only of the fleeting nature of life, but also of peace, love, beauty, purity or incorruptibility, enlightened spirit, perfection, elegance, refinement, and auspiciousness, among other qualities. The following images are from various cultures in different mediums. If you have a chance to visit before the show closes on October 1, you'll also see more paintings, screens, calligraphy, sculptures, digital animation, Pop art silkscreen prints by Takashi Murakami, and real flowers. [I apologize that some photos have reflections and lights because of the gallery set-up.]
Integral to the "The Moving Garden" is the artist's invitation to museum visitors to pick up a stem holder, approach the sculpture, pick one of the fresh flowers, insert it into the stem holder, then exit the museum. Once outside, find a stranger and offer that person a gift of this flower. Taiwanese artist Lee Mingwei was inspired by Lewis Hyde's book, The Gift, which explores the value of creativity and the idea of art as a gift rather than a commodity. Extending the flower to a stranger becomes a simple act of generosity.
As the curators explain, there is an "ongoing potential of flowers to express the best of human character and action." Flowers are more than objects of beauty; they also embody our dreams and inspire hope.
I'd love to also tell you about the interesting film I saw, the one I mention at the beginning of this post, but I've run out of time and room. So I suggest clicking on the links and finding out whether that film and similar ones are available where you live. I learned a lot about a period in American art that I had known nothing of before I sat in the theatre and listened to curators and art historians speak about an exhibition that traveled during 2015-2016. The painting at the very top is by Maria Oakey Dewing (1845-1927), one of the artists featured in the film on American Impressionism.
Questions & Comments
What is it about flowers that make us smile and appreciate them?
What do flowers say to you? Are they symbolic of something in your culture?
If you incorporate flowers in your art (painting, sculpture, fiber, jewelry, ceramics, etc.), which ones do you prefer and why? Do you represent them realistically or abstract them?
What are your favorite works of art with flowers?