Friday, 4 April 2014

OBJECT OF THE WEEK: A GARDEN IN THE GARDINER

BY KATHERINE HANNEMANN

April has finally arrived, the semester is almost over, and yet… why does it still feel like winter outside? This year, I’m finding myself skeptical of the old saying, “April showers bring May flowers.” I keep doubting that anything living will emerge from the cold ground again. However, there is hope for witnessing beautiful spring blossoms come alive -- not out in nature, but in a museum! (Ah, museums save the day yet again.)
 
Azaleas at the Gardiner. Source: Toronto Botanical Garden Blog

This year, I am counting down the days until the Gardiner Museum’s annual Spring Awakening: Gardiner in Bloom event. For the weekend of April 25 to 27, several of Toronto’s notable floral designers will bring their creations to the Gardiner, with large-scale installations of flowers, branches, moss -- all the fixings of spring -- exploding in bloom in the museum. As ceramics are the primary medium of the Gardiner’s collections, some may wonder what all these flowers have to do with it. (The obvious connection -- that flowers go in vases -- has little if anything at all to do with the installations.) But once you begin to explore the magnificent floral installations throughout the museum, you can start to see the dialogue among these arrangements and the ceramic works of art. The flowers echo and re-interpret the patterns on tea sets, sculptures, and vessels -- and you can identify where contemporary floral artists may draw inspiration from flower arrangements frozen in time for centuries on ceramic art.
 
Floral Installation in the Gallery. Source: Toronto Botanical Garden Blog

One wonderful example of re-interpretations of themes and imagery across time and genres was captured by the artists at Quince, a flower shop on Queen Street East. On their website, they describe their installation in the 2013 Spring Awakening show. The site notes that the floral arrangement borrowed its colour palette of yellow, iron-red, cornflower-blue, purple, and puce from the Meissen tea and coffee service beside which it was displayed. But the artists added a thematic twist, arranging the flowers in the “ubiquitous paper cup” to incite comparison between and conversation about the Eighteenth Century tea service signifying status and the contemporary paper “vessel for all.”
 
2013 Installation by Quince Flowers. Source: Quince

Meissen Tea Service. Source: Quince

Of course, as we’re in the midst of considering all the practical issues that museums face with every decision, I now find myself wondering how the Gardiner handles that ever-pesky collections management issue -- pest control. Perhaps the Gardiner has an advantage over other museums, as they likely care for few artifacts made of organic material (or perhaps none at all), but I imagine with an event like Spring Awakening, any collections manager would do a double-take. Museums with exterior gardens and fertile grounds must take extra caution to prevent pests from feeling at home around the museum -- let alone inside of it! This added practical consideration and how the Gardiner overcame it intrigues me, as all members of the museum’s staff -- curators, collections managers, among many others -- likely would have discussed and arrived at the decision altogether.

In my opinion, it is wonderful when the risks and benefits can be negotiated to result in such a vibrant installation, which breathes even more life into the museum’s halls. Now just hang on a few more weeks, as spring is just around the corner -- behind the doors of the Gardiner!

3 comments:

  1. I have never heard of this exhibit - and it looks wonderful!! Thank Katherine for sharing :) I'm ready for spring for sure, and, yes, museums save the day again!

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  2. Thank you for bringing the spring to Musings, Katherine! I think this is such a great idea for the Gardiner - the objects in the museum could be brought to life through these innovative associations. This is one way in which curators and other professionals in museums can communicate about objects and make them interesting and exciting to various audience.

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  3. Because flowers are such a constant inspiration for artists, I wonder why the art of botany and floral design are not more prevalent in museum and gallery culture. We frequently surround our private and public spaces with flowers for decoration but also ritualistic purposes. I would love to see an exhibition that explores the impact and importance of flowers in our culture (and others). Having grown up in Victoria, which is often referred to as the "garden city", I became accustomed to hundreds of hanging baskets, cherry blossoms, and elaborate public and private gardens blossoming throughout the city.

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