- November 2, 2016
He sure was imaginative for someone who ate the same Campbell’s soup lunch every day for 20 years.
Andy Warhol was a man of repetition, both in his artistic work and his everyday habits. But it’s what he chose to repeat that captured the attention of so many art lovers. And from now until June 30, visitors to Marie Selby Botanical Gardens can see this reiteration in a new light.
“Warhol: Flowers in the Factory” is Selby’s latest exhibit in its initiative to act as a living museum. The goal is for visitors to gain an appreciation for the artist’s little-known love for and fascination with nature.
“It’s exciting to look at this artist in a different way via his connection to nature — an exciting way to look at a much-beloved guru,” says Selby Gardens CEO Jennifer Rominiecki. “This format is very accessible because you’re not only going into a museum to look at objects, you’re immersing yourself in the gardens,and so it’s more of an experience.”
Rominiecki says to create this exhibit, her team aimed to showcase the landscape of the gardens in a way that Warhol would have painted or illustrated it. That required a metamorphosis of three areas of the gardens, one of which being the conservatory. This now houses the living centerpiece of the entire exhibit: the bromeliad wall. Or the “Warwall” as she likes to call it.
Selby Director of Glass Houses Angel Lara says he created a mirror-like effect by placing another bromeliad behind each of the ones seen upon first glance and tilting the visible plant toward visitors. When guests venture outside the greenhouse and see the other side of the wall, it appears to be a reflection, but really they’re seeing an identical plant that’s facing away from the plant behind it at the same angle as its twin.
This 82-foot-long wall features 600 bromeliad plants, which Rominiecki says is the largest known display of bromeliads in the world. In the middle of the wall is a strategically placed photo of hundreds of floral silk screen prints laid out on the floor of Warhol’s factory in New York City.
“The Factory,” which is what he called his studio, truly lived up to its name starting in 1962 when Warhol began his assembly-line-like process of silk screen printing. It was this revolutionary mass production of art that began to gain the attention of many 20th century art enthusiasts, and what inspired this massive wall of rows upon rows of bromeliads in the exhibit.
Several other patterns are found around the room, including sets of four orchids arranged in a square sprinkled throughout. In the center of it all is a sunken lounge for visitors to relax, an activity that Lara says was common among workers in The Factory.
Another section of the gardens that’s now a part of “Warhol’s Floral Playground” is the grounds, which is unique from the other sectors of the exhibit for its large, interactive displays.
Warhol is known for deriving the expression “15 minutes of fame,” but another quote was his belief that “land really is the best art.” That was the inspiration for the transformation of the grounds, says Selby Director of Horticulture and Site Operations Mike McLaughlin.
On a stroll through the gardens, guests will finds scattered groupings of white square pots holding impatiens assembled in a larger square. This continues the theme of not only Warhol’s love of grid patterns but his love of color, because inside the white pots are dozens of vibrant colors of flora.
Along the Sarasota Bay side of the gardens are several Warhol-inspired installations, the most Instagram-friendly of which being an area of “larger-than-life” pop-art-style (fake) hibiscus flowers surrounding an 8-by-8-foot frame, McLaughlin says. Instead of facing the water, the frame outlines the natural vegetation beside the bay to show off the land and inspire visitors to take a photo with their natural plant surroundings.
Another photo-worthy stop is the colorful and transparent grid close to Michael’s on the Bay that features hanging tillandsia plants. McLaughlin says he made the squares of the installation translucent so light could reflect and visitors could see the bay.
And the plant choice was a no-brainer.
“Andy Warhol always had these silver freaky wigs, and these guys are very reminiscent of that,” he says of the tillandsias.
Inside the Payne Mansion lies the final and most traditional museum-style sector of the exhibit. Visitors to The Museum of Botany & the Arts will see both original prints and reproductions of rare archival photos of Warhol interacting with nature in a way that most people never knew he did.
Along with somewhat comical photos of Warhol looking pained while participating in outdoor activities such as boating and skiing, in Gallery 1 guests will see photos of the 15.1 acres of oceanfront property that Warhol owned on the eastern tip of Long Island in Montauck, N.Y. Now it’s the Andy Warhol Nature Preserve, a use the nature conservation advocate — who also owned a land in Aspen, Colo. — would most likely approve, Curator At-Large Carol Ockman says.
As they transition into the North Gallery, guests will catch a glimpse of many iconic friends and fans of Andy Warhol, many of whom appeared in his films and other artistic projects.
Finally, visitors will see what many of them most likely came for: Andy Warhol original prints. The display features four original hibiscus silkscreen prints from 1966-1970, two poinsettia illustrative prints on loan from local art patron Flora Major, two off-set and hand-colored lithographs with nature themes, one Polaroid Polacolor called “Christmas Poinsettias” and a bound artist’s book entitled “In the Bottom of My Garden.”
Ockman says Warhol created more than 10,000 images of flowers over the course of his career, and the “Flowers” hibiscus silk screen works are particularly important because they perfectly exemplify his generic, flat style — what it lacks in detail it makes up for in color.
“Here, he’s desexed them, he’s generalized them,” she says. “Originally he had his assistant run it through the photocopy machine at least a dozen times — he wanted it to be non particular.”
These pieces on loan from Ockman’s home base of Williams College Museum of Art in Williamstown, Mass., give an important look at how Warhol was inspired by the culture of the “Flower Power” era — and paired with the living displays, Ockman thinks it makes for a unique ideal visitor experience.
“I think this show is radical in a number of ways,” says Ockman. “It presents this little-known side of Warhol on one hand but it does so in dialogue with living plants so in a way, this show is perfect for Selby and Selby is perfect for the show.”
Rominiecki says Warhol was chosen as the focus of this year’s exhibit a year ago after months of research on the American icon whose work she believes transcends generations.
Warhol’s colorful style and the subjects of his work much resonate with today’s pop culture, she says, but also with the people who grew up during his era. This exhibit allows both those familiar with his work and those who are not to experience it in a nontraditional, interactive way.
“There’s something very approachable about wandering through a garden,” she says. “And there’s something very formal about a museum with walls you can’t touch and can’t take photos of … when you go in the garden you can interact with the displays in a way that isn’t possible in a formal museum setting.”
She says so far, she’s seen a great deal of audience participation — even a mother-daughter pair with colorful streaks in their hair in honor of the late pop artist.
“Our goal is to connect people to nature and foster a real appreciation for it,” she says. “And one way to do that is through the eyes of beloved artists like Andy Warhol.”