SALZBURG.- For some time now, there has been a renaissance of flowers and mushroom themes in fine art. The comprehensive exhibition Flowers & Mushrooms explores the clichées and the various levels of meaning and symbolism of flowers and mushrooms in art. Current social and aesthetic issues are discussed on the basis of a selection of works from the fields of photography, photo-based paintings, video and sculptures/installations.
Today flowers are primarily associated with their decorative function. They also have a symbolic meaning both at weddings, where they represent freshness and fertility, and at funerals, where they represent transitoriness and death. An in-depth exploration of the varied symbolic meanings of flowers in cultural history reveals further levels of meaning, many of which refer to the ambivalence and abysms of human existence. Contemporary art adopts and continues the historical and complex pictorial tradition of flowers and mushrooms by adding new, contemporary perspectives. The exhibition was inspired by the multi-part work series Ohne Titel (Flowers, Mushrooms) by the artist duo Peter Fischli/David Weiss. The Swiss artists have been preoccupied with the role of clichées and common subjects for many years. Different slide projections with a comprehensive series of inkjet prints and cibachromes included crossfadings of flower and mushroom motifs.
At the beginning of the exhibition, a historical section shows photographs from the 19th and early 20th century. In particular the new medium of photography developed a special relationship with flower motifs. Photographs of the great variety of different plant and flower species serve as a kind of substitute for the traditional herbarium or as natural models, as "prototypes of art" for ornamental design lessons. From the early beginnings of photography, scientific interest motivated pioneers such as William Henry Fox Talbot or Anna Atkins to capture amazing pictures of plants.
Later on, the affirmative exaggeration of the decorative character of the flower inspired none other than Andy Warhol to take up a simple, photographically reproduced flower motif in his work Flowers (from 1964); through serial repetitions he ironically exaggerated the motif and conferred iconic status on banal everyday objects. Artists such as David LaChapelle and Marc Quinn continue the baroque symbol for opulence with the aggressive colourfulness of their impressively grand flower arrangements, but also emphasize the simultaneously existing threatening moment, when the boundlessness can take on a devouring character.
Flowers and buds symbolize eroticism in general, their appearance creating associations with the female and masculine gender (sexual organs) specifically and thus have a sensual appeal. Imogen Cunningham and Robert Mapplethorpe have a reputation as early forerunners of this sexualized and yet apocalyptic perception of flowers. They both implemented this special perception - erotically charged and aloof at the same time - in their photographs by drawing analogies to the human body in their sculptural treatment of the flower.
Female artists such as Vera Lutter, Paloma Navares and Chen Lingyang reflect upon flowers in a specifically female way, using them as a symbol for their own identity-defining sexuality, but also for their vulnerability and exposure and thus elevate the flower to a sociocritical and political level.
Thanatos, or death, is closely related to Eros. The wilting flower as a symbol of vanity is depicted by Michael Wesely in his long-exposure photographs, which accompany the life of a flower from full bloom to its wilting while emphasizing their beauty to the very end. The flower monstrosities of the "desolate" video installations by Nathalie Djurberg, which deal with violence and abuse, are devoid of any loveliness and even have a threatening effect.
Both in their natural environment and in cultural history, mushrooms are on the shadow side. Mushrooms are mainly associated with dubious alchemism and witchcraft, are desired and feared as hallucinogenic and have become an integral part of art and literature. Similar to flowers, mushrooms have a long tradition in art history and appear frequently within the context of artistic productions. Sylvie Fleury, for example, controls space with a "forest" of overdimensional mushrooms, whose surface is covered with car paint, thus increasing their intrinsic character of a foreign body. Their over-dimensional size, and glittering appearance evokes scenes from "Alice in Wonderland", where the protagonist eats from a mushroom to makes her grow or sink. Carsten Höller, by contrast, explores mushrooms with almost scientific interest and documents their individuality and uniqueness in detailed colour photographs or converts them into larger-than-life-size, large-scale sculptures and display cabinets.
The exhibition features works by Nobuyoshi Araki, Anna Atkins, Elika Bartek, Christopher Beane, Karl Blossfeldt, Lou Bonin-Tchimoukoff, Balthasar Burkhard, Giovanni Castell, Georgia Creimer, Imogen Cunningham, Nathalie Djurberg, Hans-Peter Feldmann, Peter Fischli/David Weiss, Sylvie Fleury, Seiichi Furuya, Ernst Haas, Carsten Höller, Judith Huemer, Dieter Huber, Rolf Koppel, August Kotzsch, David LaChapelle, Edwin Hale Lincoln, Chen Lingyang, Vera Lutter, Katharina Malli, Robert Mapplethorpe, Elfriede Mejchar, Moritz Meurer, Paloma Navares, Nam June Paik, Marc Quinn, Albert Renger-Patzsch, Zeger Reyers, Pipilotti Rist, August Sander, Gitte Schäfer, Shirana Shahbazi, Luzia Simons, Thomas Stimm, Robert von Stockert, William Henry Fox Talbot, Diana Thater, Stefan Waibel, Xiao Hui Wang, Andy Warhol, Alois Auer von Welsbach, Michael Wesely, Manfred Willmann, Andrew Zuckerman.