Imagine walking into an old Queenslander and finding it opulent with some of the finest floral art this state has to offer.
That’s pretty much your introduction to the utterly gorgeous new exhibition at Museum of Brisbane (MoB).
Rearranged: Art of the Flower is a triumph because it does what many galleries and art museums fail to do. MoB manages to tap into the hearts and minds of gallery goers by foregoing curatorial fashion and indulging in exhibitions that – wait for it – people actually want to see.
Their last show Clay was a triumph, reclaiming pottery – ceramics if you prefer – and tapping into the community’s abiding love of the genre. When I had lunch with MoB CEO and director Zoe Graham a few months ago the obvious question was “What’s next?”
“Flowers” was the answer. My face lit up and I know thousands of other faces will light up when they see this exhibition. Admission is free (always a boon) and it is on until next August so you have time to go to Brisbane City Hall to see it time and time again.
But I digress. Let me take you back to the entrance, stepping into that old Queenslander where they have hanging, salon-style, works by our premier floral artists … except one.
I might as well get this out of the way first but the one artist in Brisbane who is famous for painting flowers is Stephen Nothling and his work is not here.
Nothling has been our floral artist of choice for decades and he is collected by MoB and had a major exhibition here a few years ago. Maybe that disqualified him, but it’s an omission from this show which another artist pointed out to me. Just saying.
But let’s see who we do have. Vida Lahey, of course, who is famous for her flower arrangements. There are some gorgeous ones in the exhibition including By the Window, a classic Lahey painting including flowers and an interior, dating from the 1940s.
Then there is Margaret Olley, whose flora paintings make you sigh or quietly gasp. November Lillies, painted in 1963, is a classic and it came into the City of Brisbane Collection in 1969.
There are works by others including a wonderful still life by William Bustard and John Honeywill’s 2023 painting Snap (a snapdragon?) is quite exquisite. Keith Burt, whose star is rising, is also included with some lovely smaller works.
And there is a beautiful Michael Zavros work called Crystal/Thistle painted in 2013. His thistles in a luxurious crystal jar make you think, because these spiky plants are weeds – but beautiful weeds nonetheless.
There’s a handy guide to the works of this salon available just inside the entrance. You will probably spend more time than you should here, but who could blame you?
Just as you have got over the emotional and aesthetic impact of that first room you step into the next to be absolutely bowled over by local artist Karen Stone’s arresting 4m by 2m large-scale paper arabesques adorned in flowers and made from recycled garments.
Stone explores home as both a physical and emotional concept, drawing on her personal experiences as a single, older and non-homeowning Australian woman. She draws on recollections of floral patterns from her childhood to create a little enchanted forest of works that hang like the most exquisite tapestries. She pulps clothes to create these large sheets of paper that feature her floral patterns.
The result is staggeringly beautiful and sumptuous in a simple way, if that makes sense.
The exhibition, which features 22 artists, is superbly mounted by the MoB team. As you wander you will see ceramic works by Jaishree Srinivasan, Clairy Laurence and Sarah Rayner alongside cutting-edge works by creatives including Boneta-Marie Mabo and the Brisbane photographic duo, the brothers Man&Wah.
Brisbane artists Norton Fredericks, Pamela See (Xue Mei-Ling) and Lyndall Phelps also contribute to this showcase of natural beauty. And there are some lovely pieces by Monica Rohan, whose work always has hidden depths and a beauty that belies the themes she explores.
Pamela See’s works are paper cut-outs in the tradition of Foshan paper cutters from her mother’s ancestral province of Guangdong. She has cut the shapes of flowers or crops grown by Chinese market gardeners in Brisbane.
The Chinese connection continues in the works of twin brothers Man&Wah, Hong Kong-born creative partners who work with photography and digital imaging.
They have their own room in the exhibition and it’s quite a trippy experience, although I should point out that their video work Celeston is an entirely natural high. Their imagery is mandala-like at times. It’s a digital video with a soundtrack by John Serrie.
The space is designed so that when you walk in you feel as though you have entered a cosmic realm and their video features flowers, landscapes, shapes and patterns. The whole thing is to make you think about your relationship to nature and the universe. Like I said, trippy.
The range of work is impressive, from classical depictions to edgy modern renderings, still-life compositions and hyper-realistic paintings juxtaposed with stained glass artworks, rich textiles and mixed media installations. Visitors are allowed to wander and explore a sensual and expressive display.
MoB director Zoe Graham said the exhibition honours our personal and universal connections to one of art’s most enduring motifs.
“We are excited to bring together an incredible array of the city’s finest creatives whose work spans decades and mediums,” Graham says.
“Rearranged: Art of the Flower promises to not only be visually stunning but intensely evocative, connecting us deeply to memory and place.”
The exhibition features 15 new acquisitions from 12 local artists across a variety of mediums, adding to MoB’s collection.
Rearranged: The Art of the Flower continues until August 11, 2024, at the Museum of Brisbane, Brisbane City Hall, King George Square
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