The Art of Flowers
Posted on June 15, 2015
A new group show at Florence’s Gucci Museum showcases the many meanings of a familiar object: the flower. “The Language of Flowers,” which runs through September 20, brings together works of four artists—photographers Irving Penn and Valérie Belin, sculptor Latifa Echakhch, and painter Marlene Dumas. Each work explores the floral motif in a distinct way, infused with each artist’s particular sensibility.
“We may think it’s the most anodyne or saccharine subject, but flowers can do great things,” says Matt Witkovsky, chair of the department of photography at the Art Institute of Chicago, which houses Irving Penn’s personal archive of photographs, contact sheets, and negatives. He says Penn’s poppy photos of the late 1960s, featured in the Gucci Museum’s show, give visitors “a reminder of our own mortality. The flowers are seductive, gorgeous in their colors, but they are melancholic,” as Penn photographed them on white background just as the petals began to wilt and fade.
Sharing the mournful theme is Dumas’ painting Einder. It depicts a colorful bouquet set on a dark blue background—the coffin of the South African artist’s mother, who passed away shortly before Dumas created the painting.
By contrast, Belin’s photographs, which inlay the image of an elegant woman into a bouquet of flowers, use flora to create what she calls a “dialog” with the subjects’ wavy hair, makeup, and beaded necklaces.
“For me, flowers are like an ideal baroque pattern,” says Belin. Unlike Penn’s focus on the detail of individual blossoms, the French photographer says she selected flowers with a simple outline to create a sort of wallpaper or “decorative vegetal framework,” as Belin puts it.
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