By Doug MacCash, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune
Art in Bloom, The New Orleans Museum of Art's annual exhibition of botanical sculpture was busting out all over the museum on the first day of spring (March 20) as Sue Strachan, Susan Langenhennig and I stole away from the office for the afternoon.
Perhaps the most crowd-pleasing creation overall is the giant blossom-covered Crystal hot sauce bottle situated amid the paintings of the saints and savior. The six-foot bottle burbles with orange-red orchids and roses that produce a fiery puddle on the floor. My colleagues and I were discussing the implications of discovering hot sauce amid the sacred icons. But before we could hammer out a collective theological theory, we noticed that the three big red bell peppers that had adorned the bottle had come loose and tumbled to the floor. When your hot sauce loses its peppers ... well, ... it's tragic.
Speaking of tragic: The skull displayed among blood-red tropical flowers near NOMA's signature portrait of Marie Antoinette probably wasn't meant to symbolize the poor dear's dramatic demise, but it as hard to interpret it otherwise.
For comic relief, don't miss the nymph among the 19th-century paintings; she seems frightened by the large, unruly flower arrangement that is festooned with Krewe of Tucks toilet paper. Flee nymph, flee.
NOMA visitor Kathleen Banton was struck by the harmonious relationship of a misty landscape painting and the subtle, rustic flower arrangement that accompanied it. The flowers and foliage emerged from a large hollow log vase, accompanied by a thin oak branch crusted with lichen.
"Often times I look at a painting in terms of its atmosphere," said Banton, "and this garden element creates that same atmosphere that these paintings do, that mistiness, that airiness, that kind of elusiveness you see. Especially with the coloration in the base, of the wooden piece. It has a lot of colors in it. It's not just brown or cream, it shows the kind of haziness."
Not far away sat a glinting white manikin fussing over her beehive hairdo made from carnations. She seemed disinterested in the Cubism that surrounded her.
That life-size tree made from driftwood in the contemporary art wing seems to belong there. It’s the perfect surrealist companion for the weird full-sized golden log cabin.
Among the most visually satisfying offerings is a bouquet of blue and white blooms, displayed with the corner of a stout gilded frame. The simple but striking arrangement echoes the Impressionist painting beside it beautifully.
This was NOMA visitor Jacqueline Leal's favorite.
"As far as combining the florals with the paintings, absolutely, this one over here is very well done,” Leal said. “Yeah. It adds a whole dimension to have the florals with the paintings."
Leal also admired the NOMA's treasured Edgar Degas painting that depicts the artist's cousin arranging flowers. The flowers in the painting are echoed with a similar actual arrangement.
"The Degas over here;" Leal said, “the florals in front of it make the woman seem more real and relatable, because you have your own bouquet there in front of you, it brings the humanity out."
The most poetic and grimmest Art in Bloom corollary takes place in the lobby. The staircase is adorned with a pair of floral arrangements that include spears of bamboo. The bamboo seems to reach upward toward the huge, hanging sculpture by conceptual master Mel Chin, which is also made of bamboo. Chin’s cylindrical design is a replica of a high explosive bomb used in the Vietnam War to flatten areas of the jungle instantaneously in order to allow helicopters to land. The bomb’s nickname was The Daisy Cutter.
Not everyone approves of fundraising frolics like Art in Bloom. Some serious art lovers find it frivolous. I’m not of that mind. Art in Bloom provokes us to see familiar art differently, to reinterpret and re-imagine. It causes dormant art to blossom anew.
Art in Bloom continues through Sunday (March 23). Museum hours are Tuesday-Thursday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Friday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. By museum admission: $10 adults, $8 seniors, $6 children ages 7-17. NOMA is located at 1 Collins Diboll Circle, City Park. Call 504.658.4100. For more information go to noma.org.