Incredible floral arrangements graced the Westbeth Art Gallery at the opening of Strange Flowers last Saturday night. Flowers and their strange beauty unite the artists assembled by the show’s organizer Elisabeth Condon, but their approaches vary widely. From backyard weeds and blooms gone awry; hyper-realized blossoms gleaned out of the corner of one’s eye; roses stained on ancient cloth literally marking the passing of a dear friend; perfectly rendered arrangements drawn in colored ink; ancient botanical images on wallpaper newly arranged to form an architectural temple pattern; plants gathered and dipped in wax laid against a perfect blue sky; larger than life-sized blooms and blossoms that one can escape into; butterflies and birds residing amongst leaves and streams of paint in an urban landscape; to a set of vintage wildflower identification cards placed on a shelf set against plant-dyed paper on the wall.
On the night of the opening, some visitors presumed that the wildflower cards were there for the taking. Was there a sign posted that said, “Please take a card, courtesy of the artist”? Absolutely not! Slowly the deck of 49 cards became 19. Unlike the stacks of candy found in the participatory work of Felix Gonzalez-Torres, for example, these cards are irreplaceable parts of the artist’s work, not meant to be taken from the piece.
What led some viewers to literally pick these flowers without seeking permission? What did they think would happen when the 49 wildflower cards were gone? Did they think that they would just be replaced? Is this any different from one visiting a museum and simply taking a painting off the wall to put in one’s home?
If you take all the goldenrod from a particular spot, what will the foraging fall pollinators have to fuel them for the long cold winter? If the forest is cleared to make way for a pipeline, where do all the insects, birds, and animals go when their habitat is removed?
Are art & nature for the taking?
Strange Flowers on view at Westbeth Art Gallery until September 30, 2017. Gallery open Wednesday to Sunday, 1-6pm. 55 Bethune Street, New York, NY