When fresh-cut flowers occupy a space the environment absorbs the lush qualities of a breath, as petals wilt softly and sigh. The intense organic perfume, too, permeates the space, driving one to inhale and exhale deeply to consider the scent (or perhaps sneeze if allergens prevent that particular delight). But our interaction with living blooms occurs through a type of osmosis—a sensorial experience that cannot be denied, one that simply slips into our orbit. The exhibition, ‘A Change of Heart’, curated by Chris Sharp at Hannah Hoffman Gallery, examines and celebrates flowers and our natural fascination with them, focusing on artwork created from the 1960s onward.
Cheerily greeting the gallery visitor upon arrival, Mark A. Rodriguez’s ‘Q-P2016 (good quality)’ (2016) recreates a cardboard cutout flower found outside a rose shop in Los Angeles. Moving around the sculpture—perhaps a little surprised and amused—one then encounters Camille Henrot’s ikebana arrangements sitting low on a raised platform, tatami-shot level. The assembly of each delicate arrangement reflects the titles of books chosen for another of Henrot’s projects, and in keeping with her interest in threading connections between systems of knowledge using taxonomies, the names of the flower types and attendant binomial nomenclature are listed in the exhibition literature.
A cluster of dried flowers hangs from a wall, elegantly drooping muted oranges, dusty yellows, greens, and varied browns. Kapwani Kiwanga’s ‘Flowers for Africa: Uganda’ (2014) presents a contract to the keeper of the work that stipulates how the florist should recreate an arrangement presented at the liberation of Uganda that Kiwanga found in a historical archive. The re-composition of a symbol from such a momentous occasion reflects something larger than gift giving or ceremony, also absorbing the pregnant weight of expectation and hope instilled in these handcrafted assemblages.
A group of works hung salon-style dominates the far wall of the main gallery, showcasing works by Caitlin Keogh, Tom Allen, Andy Robert, Holly Coulis, Amy Yao, and Alex Katz, among others. The installation is comely and unified, highlighting the individual artist’s sensibility and relationship to flowers while surveying the universality of the subject matter—funny, attractive, tacky, sensual, and beyond. A large Willem de Rooij arrangement becomes the axis of the room. Towering slightly above human height, the bulbous ceramic vase sits atop a rectangular plinth—peppery baby’s breath, lean and strong gladiolas, frilly carnations, and fat roses spray forth enthusiastically.
A smaller gallery towards the front features work from a fraught time period in New York: A Robert Mapplethorpe ‘Orchid’ from 1985, a Felix Gonzales-Torres photograph from 1992, and a Joe Brainard collage from 1966. Maria Loboda’s vase of flowers is tended to by the gallery daily, ordering and assembling the grouping of lavender irises, golden sunflowers, and white hydrangeas. This quiet spare room trembled with life, death, memory, and care—the guardianship of the Loboda work synthesizing much of how we memorialize and honor legacies through different modes of artistic production.
For D’Ette Nogle’s work, a vase with a new arrangement of flowers is delivered weekly. The previous week’s flowers are left to wither and dry as the succession continues. This piece is a response to Jane Freilicher’s painting ‘Still Life with Blue Pitcher’ (1980), which hangs across the gallery, Nogle’s fresh-to-dying arrangements calmly cycle through multiple lifespans while Freilicher’s watercolor persistently pulses with colour. Readings of poems selected by Sharp also accompany the show, dipping further back in history than the visual side of the show to include Modernist and Surrealist works. As in the artworks within ‘A Change of Heart’, the handpicked literature reflects the sensibilities of Sharp and his curious but incisive cause to elevate the flower-as-subject to its glorious, rightful place.