Art you can smell, or smelly art? Art in Bloom at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts

Art in Bloom 2013: Global Nature; floral arrangements

Art in Bloom 2013: Global Nature. Photo courtesy of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts

Art in Bloom events are held at galleries around the U.S. in the spring. The galleries challenge local florists  to create arrangements that are inspired by specific paintings or sculptures found within the museum. Taking art that can last hundreds of years and placing it next to a medium that decays in a week is an interesting comparison exercise.

For the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, the event has been a major fundraiser for 30 years. The event draws in about 26,000 visitors over four days to view 160 floral arrangements and their corresponding artworks. The previous 29 yearly events have raised $2.7 million for the Friends of the Institute, a volunteer organization tied to the MIA.

The florists for the MIA Art in Bloom event are volunteers from various backgrounds. Anyone can participate, which may be part of the problem. Without a jury, the show ends up with a wide range of quality. I’m not a fan of is spending hours in the museum looking at floral arrangements that are simply attempts at copying the art’s colors and shapes with flowers. It’s like looking at someone’s pointilism version of an art piece, with each dot being about 2 inches big.

For example, “A ‘Bear’ Chance” by Philip R. Goodwin depicts a bear that has happened upon a Cream of Wheat box in the winter amidst a clear cut forest. The bear has reclaimed a bit of property for the time being, but it’s a small consolation. Once spring arrives, men are sure to return to finish the job.

The florist has decided to approach this painting by putting the flowers in a “Cream of Wheat” box. White flowers represent the snow, a pinecone is the replacement for the bear, probably because it’s also brown. Other pine cuttings are used to represent the forest in the back of the box, and a yellow daisy pokes out of the white field as the treasured food for the bear. This kind of 1 for 1 replication is like a color by numbers approach to interpretation and leads to boredom.

This sort of approach comprises about 80 percent of the floral arrangements at MIA. However, the event is still a great reason to tour the museum, and the florists who did excellent work stood out even more.

There were a few very good interpretations among the arrangements, and the approach that worked best was to use the original artwork as a jumping off point for the strengths of a floral medium.

“Grand Canal from Palazzo Flangini to Palazzo Bembo” by Giovanni Canaletto, depicts what seems like a typical day in Venice with people, boats and buildings. The water reflects the city and people and provides a sense of calm. The floral arrangement nearby by Amy Smith of Floral Whimsy, “looks” nothing like the painting. Right away, the viewer is challenged not to simply find the 1 for 1 comparisons. Smith treats you as if you have more intelligence than that, and I thank her for it.  Smith frames the flowers with green Scotch broom above a flat, wide canal of a container with clover-like greenery. From this, rise various, colorful flowers. None of the colors in the arrangement are dominant in the painting. Smith picks out accents from people’s clothing to provide a basis for the floral choices, and the vibrancy brings out the humanity in the painting otherwise focused on architecture and nature. Instead of literally transcribing with flowers, she transfers the motion and life in the scene into bright color and upward movement, and it’s a welcome sight among so much staleness.

Staleness like the floral arrangement found next to “Tornado over St. Paul” by Julius Holm. The painting is reduced to a floral replication of the tornado while neglecting the city threatened in the original. Once again, a thematic element goes missing – threatening imagery does little without anything at risk.

Olive Trees by Vincent Van Gogh

Olive Trees by Vincent Van Gogh. Arrangement by Youngun Lee Kim, Ikebana International Sogetsu School. Photo © Joel Hagen

Some florists were able to use a painting’s dominant colors to their benefit. I loved the way Youngun Lee Kim played with the colors found in Vincent Van Gogh’s “Olive Trees.” Another florist would have just used one sunflower to represent the sun, but Kim uses several in the arrangement to spread the warmth. Kim also uses some wonderful greenery with long leaves that resemble the long, thick brush strokes Van Gogh was fond of. The curly willow branches reach high and stretch life into the arrangement.

Your Dog" by Yoshitomo Nara

Your Dog by Yoshitomo Nara. Arrangement: Feed Your Dog Sushi by Beth Tesler. Photo © Joel Hagen

My favorite, and my wife’s favorite, arrangement was by a first year participant (perhaps unaware of the literal recreation precedent set by others over decades). Beth Tesler looked at Yoshitomo Nara’s “Your Dog” sculpture and created an original arrangement that complements and adds to the original piece. “Your Dog” is a huge sculpture of a serene-looking k-9 meant to give the viewer an impression of what such animals look like from a child’s perspective. It’s perhaps from that child-like place that Tesler formulated her question, “has anyone fed this dog?” Using that as a starting point, Tesler created an arrangement of sushi made from various plants and presented in a silver dog dish on a bed of grass. She even used honeycomb and ginger to add to the greatest asset the florists had over the original works – aroma. Her arrangement would give the viewer the sight and smell of food! She named the arrangement “Feed Your Dog Sushi” and is one of the few florists at the exhibit to name their arrangements separately from the painting.

That separation is what makes the piece so interesting. Tesler’s arrangement provides an interaction point to the sculpture. It creates a narrative for the piece, a story that viewers can take with them, quite literally, since Tesler also included buttons that visitors could grab to wear.

As I sat taking notes about this piece, my wife went back to grab one of the buttons. A trio of elderly women were trying to make sense of the floral pedestal. Wife had the $3 program with the florist’s notes and read the explanation to them.

“Since the theme is Global nature and the artist is Japanese, it seemed that sushi would be in order, served on a nice grassy yard in a silver dog bowl and chop sticks,” my wife read.

“Doesn’t look much like a dog,” said one of the seniors.

“Right,” said wife, “it’s offering the arrangement as a companion piece to the dog rather than just replicating it with a bunch of flowers.”

“Huh,” replied another senior. “That’s just confusing.”

Wife related this bit of dialog to me later. I was angry that these museum-goers would favor the boring arrangements. But maybe that’s the point. You can’t force people to enjoy creative explorations of art, but you can hit them in the brain’s pleasure centers by creating an easy puzzle/comparison. Maybe the rest of the florists had it pegged better than me. I hope not.

It turns out that both types of approaches to this artistic exercise were appreciated. The tornado arrangement won the People’s Choice Award for Best Interpretation, while Tesler’s “Feed Your Dog Sushi” entry won for Most Creative.

In any case, I hope Beth Tesler continues to participate in Art in Bloom, and that she doesn’t fall for the easy path so many others took with this exercise of an event. Creativity and engagement with the original work on its own terms should be the rule, not the exception.

Art in Bloom 2013: Global Nature. Photo courtesy of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts

Art in Bloom 2013: Global Nature. Photo courtesy of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts

Discussion 2 commenti

  1. May 8, 2015 at 8:32 pm

    I saw a very different flower arrangement next to to Y. Nara’s white dog. It was a fire hydrant! We laughed out loud.

    • May 8, 2015 at 8:43 pm

      We weren’t able to make it this year, but that’s awesome to hear!

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by Joel Hagen
in Columns, Focus on the Midwest

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