The Swiss artist duo Peter Fischli/David Weiss was preoccupied with the role of clichés and everyday themes and subjects for many years. Flowers, Mushrooms is the title of a multi-part series of approx. 40 C-prints they created in 1997/98.
Inspired by this body of work and by the artists' intentions and aims, the summer exhibition „Flowers & Mushrooms“ at the MdM SALZBURG wants to explore these clichés and the various levels of meaning of flowers and mushrooms and their symbolism in contemporary art, based on a selection of photographs, photo- based paintings, videos, sculptures and installations. Categories such as power and domination, vanity, eroticism, life cycle and politics are investigated as critically as threat and kitsch.
Today flowers are primarily associated with their decorative function. Their nice, ornamental appearance has been regarded as a symbol for a perfect bourgeois interior since the Biedermeier era. Flowers 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. The exhibition shows how contemporary art continues the historical and complex tradition of flowers and mushrooms in visual art and uses them in both traditional and new ways.
A historical part with works from the 19th century and Classical Modernism presents the use of photography as medium: 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.
Apart from the famous Flowers which were used as lapidary photographic quotations by Andy Warhol, who elevated the serial production of trivial everyday objects to iconic status, artists like David LaChapelle and Marc Quinn continue the Baroque symbol for opulence and voluptuousness with the aggressive colourfulness of their impressively grand flower arrangements, but also emphasize the threatening aspect of this excessiveness, which appears to consume and devour everything. 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. Sylvie Fleury also dominates the room with over-dimensional mushrooms whose surfaces are coated with car paint to increase their inherent nature 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 make her grow or shrink.
Flowers and buds symbolize eroticism in general, their appearance creating associations with the female and masculine gender specifically, and thus have a sensual appeal. Robert Mapplethorpe implements this perception in his photographs, and his partially sculptural treatment of the flower creates analogies with the human body. The erotic photographs by Nobuyoshi Araki also draw parallels between a blossom and the female body and create a field of tension between still life and nude.
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 socio-critical 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. Contrastingly, the monstrous, towering flowers and mushrooms of the "desolate" video installations created by Nathalie Djurberg are devoid of any loveliness and even have a menacing effect. They depict violence and abuse and give flowers a particularly irritating and disconcerting touch by breaking with their generally positive connotation.
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Museum der Moderne Mönchsberg