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A favored subject of modern artists is the depiction of flowers; while many critically acclaimed artists throughout the modernist movement such as Matisse, Warhol, and Van Gogh created many works depicting these plants, their works stand-alone contrasting greatly to one another. Andy Warhol’s painting, Flowers, was initially displayed at the MET in 1979, shortly after its creation in 1967. The painting is depicted through the mediums of acrylic, and Warhol’s pioneering silkscreen enamel on canvas. The four, bright orange flowers encapsulate the refreshing and surprising departure from Warhol’s initial themes of pop art and culture, and a transcendence into fresh, nature-focused works. In his Flowers print, the several blocks of color comprise the four flowers while a variant of black outlines the bed of grass. Warhol is calling for a national recognition of the appeal flowers have each spring. He has once said, “My fascination with letting images repeat, or run-on, manifests my belief that we spend too much of our lives seeing without observing.” Warhol’s interest in flowers has also been said to speak to his larger interest in cohering floral elements and fashion– a fascination that still persists in art and sartorial spheres of the modern era. It is believed by many critics that Flowers resonated with the 1960’s fashion set due to the fact that they considered the flowers’ simple shapes, bold patterns, and bright colors as promising fixtures of the then-contemporary design.
In an earlier work by Henri Matisse, the theme of flowers becomes reiterated in his work Lilacs. In the years just before World War I in 1914, Matisse challenged the traditional views held on painting. With Matisse’s mass intrigue in the sensory nature of objects, and the arabesque line to join them, one could see how the motivations behind Lilacs is similar to that of Flowers. Calling for attention rather than observation, the brightly colored blossoms and leaves of the Lilacs Matisse paints portrays a still life replica of individuals most anticipated subject of spring. Contrastingly to that of Warhol however, Matisse used the simple medium of oil on canvas for this work. Regionally, Matisse is a French artist while Warhol is an American artist residing in Pittsburgh, New York, and Pennsylvania. Although the origins of these two painting are different, the underlying tones of experimentation, liberalization, color, problems of color-as-energy, and color-as-light are still prominent. Matisse’s ability to dematerialize objects while simultaneously illuminating the stems of the flowers and having them disappear under Matisse’s gaze. The colored lilacs show Matisse’s draw to action from the viewer to appreciate the coming of spring, as opposed to observing it—a message very similar to that of Warhol.
Contrarily to the modernist movement, more recent works exhibited at the MoMA such as Rodney McMillian’s Succulent and Isa Genzken’s Rose II, portray flowers and plants in a different light, from a very different perspective. In Rodney McMillians sculpture Succulent constructed in 2010, the perspective of welcoming spring, and attention over observance transcends into a contemporary perspective stillness and political critiques of American social history. McMillian presents a hand-sewn room made from black vinyl fabric encapsulates the social critique of waste and human consumption, acting as a liminal space between inside and outside. This fusion of spatial and bodily categories instead draws a call to action against the killing and elimination of our planet and its natural sources. While Matisse and Warhol called for individuals to comprehend a deeper beauty for flowers, McMillian is calling for comprehension in the need for reform in American social history in regard to the destruction of our planet. The black vinyl background most likely represents the decay of Earth, and the lifeless, colorless, sewn succulent vines represent the struggle of the Earth’s resources to break free of the destructive nature humans have imposed on the Earth. As a political, personal, and social investigation, McMillian’s sculpture serves a very different purpose than that of Modernist depictions of nature.
Isa Genzken’s sculpture Rose II was built in 2007, with the mediums of stainless steel, aluminum, and lacquer. Standing an astonishing 8 feet tall, the flower in this sculpture reimagines architecture, assemblage, and installation by giving form to a new plastic environment and precarious structure. Originally created in 1993, the work was reprised in 2007 in its culmination of a practice, exploring the way humans perceive objects and images through their senses. Much like that of Matisse and Warhol, perception as opposed to observation is the goal of Rose II. The mere scale and placement of the rose on the building it is seemingly growing from, draws a similar message as McMillian’s Succulent. The integration of architecture, nature, and mass culture elicits the message of natural beauty growing from a structural time period. The growth of nature in the midst of an industrial revolution of American social history is portrayed through the rose protruding from the stainless-steel building.
The works from the MET by Matisse and Warhol encapsulate a modernist perspective of the beauty flowers bring to the nature of spring. Demanding perception over observation, these works are from a time period where political and social history was extremely different than that of the works displayed in the MoMA. This historical difference is most likely the underlying reason for the difference in the works call to actions. While McMillian and Genzken call for social reform on American’s treatment of the Earth, their sculptures reflect the beauty that is struggling to be observed with the constant destruction of American society. Similarly, however, the works present the perceptual beauty flowers represent. Whether it be through silkscreen enamel canvas, acrylic, or sculptures, the overall call to action and meanings of these works remain the same.
- Genzken, Isa. “Isa Genzken. Rose II. 2007 | MoMA.” The Museum of Modern Art, www.moma.org/collection/works/174065?locale=en&on_view=1&page=1&with_images=1. Accessed 10 May 2019.
- McMillian, Rodney. “Rodney McMillian. Succulent. 2010 | MoMA.” The Museum of Modern Art, www.moma.org/collection/works/217772?locale=en&on_view=1&page=1&with_images=1. Accessed 10 May 2019.
- Warhol, Andy. Metmuseum.org, www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/482006?&pkgids=509&ft=*&offset=0&rpp=20&pos=3. Accessed 10 May 2019.
- Matisse, Henri. Metmuseum.org, www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/492700?&searchField=All&sortBy=Relevance&who=Matisse, Henri$Henri Matisse&ft=matisse&offset=0&rpp=20&pos=1. Accessed 10 May 2019.
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