Exhibition at the Belvedere explores the tree in art

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Exhibition at the Belvedere explores the tree in art
Exhibition view "GROW. The Tree in Art". Photo: Johannes Stoll / Belvedere, Vienna.

VIENNA.- The Tree of Knowledge, the Tree of Enlightenment, the Axis of the World: Following these narrative strands, the exhibition GROW is centered around the tree as a subject in art and its relationship to humankind.

Director General Stella Rollig: “In the current climate crisis, the tree is perceived more than ever as a companion whose survival or demise has direct, tangible effects, not the least of which are emotional ones. While a tree dying on your own street is painful, the far-off deforestation of the rainforest is downright frightening. This exhibition explores this deep connection between humans and trees.”

Throughout the centuries, the tree has been an area of projection for humankind’s relationship to nature and questions about human identity. The exhibition at the Lower Belvedere builds a thematic connection from the tree of knowledge between good and evil, to the tree of enlightenment, to the tree as metaphorical axis of the world. Whether as a cautionary reminder of eternal damnation, as in Giovanni Segantini’s The Evil Mothers, or as a peaceful observer of an intimate story, as in Emilie Mediz-Pelikan’s Blossoming Chestnut Trees, in each case, the tree in art represents the qualities we project onto it. Nilbar Güreş’s Headstanding Totem from 2014 is a contemporary version of a mythological figure that, in close connection with the tree, can also be read as an appeal to our concern for the environment.

Curator Miroslav Haľák: “This approach to the tree as a subject has the potential to catch one off guard due to its emotional weight – over the centuries, people have assigned both humane and divine attributions to the tree. In its personified form, the tree acts as guardian, loner, social being, listener, protector, or climate savior.”

Particularly in a time of forest fires and deforestation, the exhibition asks urgent questions about the perils of the climate crisis, and consciously relies on sustainable materials and strategies in its own realization.

The selection of works is grounded in the Belvedere’s collection and supplemented by a number of loans. The 102 works on display, including paintings, sculptures, and installations, span a period from the fifteenth century to the present. Two installations and a mural in the entrance area were made especially for this exhibition.

A specially curated soundtrack immerses individual rooms in a specific sonic atmosphere: Nora Skuta has interpreted a sonata by John Cage, while compositions by Erik Truffaz, Arve Henriksen, David Kollar, and others accompany visitors throughout the exhibition. Padhi Frieberger’s black-and-white photographs designate the sound stations. The soundtrack can be accessed via audio guide or the museum app Smartify and can also be purchased as a CD in the museum shop.

GROW at the Green Belvedere: The exhibition was planned with ecological sustainability in mind. In terms of implementation, it meant that plastic and such typical exhibition features as adhesive letterings were dispensed with. Wall text was painted with the help of paper stencils. The wall labels are made of seed paper, printed with bio-degradable ink. The length of transport routes for the artworks was also kept to a minimum. The catalogue for GROW was produced on a carbon-neutral basis.

A supplementary program will be devoted to topics such as the tree in music, in religion, and in philosophy, its occurrence in outsider art, and general topics surrounding ecology. It will include several artist talks and an extensive film program at the Blickle Kino.

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