Having missed last year’s Bouquets to Art, there was no way I was going to miss it again, especially after a great conversation with a friend who attended Monday’s spectacular gala at the De Young Museum and described it as “the best party in town” and “worth every penny.”
“Bouquets to Art” is a 26-year fundraiser initiated by the San Francisco Auxiliary of the Fine Arts Museums that has become one of the country’s leading floral events and the most popular annual event at the De Young. Every year, for five days, floral designers from all over the world, but mainly from the greater Bay Area, organize their loveliest and most exotic blooms into creative arrangements that respond to works in the museum’s permanent collection. The show is complimented by a series of daily lectures by noted Bay Area, national and international floral designers and special luncheons and high teas. This year’s show includes 161 arrangements spread throughout the museum that celebrate the upcoming landmark French Impressionism exhibitions from the Musée d’Orsay in Paris that will be on view at the de Young Museum shortly after the close of Bouquets to Art 2010. (Birth of Impressionism: Masterpieces from the Musée d’Orsay, May 22- September 6, 2010 and Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cézanne, and Beyond: Post-Impressionist Masterpieces from the Musée d’Orsay, September 25, 2010- January 18, 2011.)
When I arrived on Wednesday promptly at 9:45 AM, the museum was already bustling. I brought my mother, 85, along–she’s an avid gardener, loves French Impressionism and relishes the De Young. Soon, we were
literally rubbing elbows with what seemed like hundreds of other early-bird enthusiasts who were gathered around Wilsey court taking in the view of this year’s hallmark piece–an enormous circular creation by Bay Area designer Orna Maymon, of Ornamento, comprised of dangling fuschia-purplish-hued silk ribbons with flowers at the ends, resembling some sort of giant breezy sea flower. I didn’t think too highly of its clothesline effect but frankly, there aren’t any temporary works that I’ve seen installed in this area that have really clicked for me.
Onward to the galleries! The event is well-organized and in addition to a printed map–which became impossible to navigate due to the swarming crowds– each floral arrangement has a placard listing its floral and other components as well as the team that assembled it and their inspiration. As we strolled through the museum galleries, we heard many lively discussions about art, gardening, floral design and identification. Baffling names like “aquilegia” (common name “black barlow”) or “craspedia” (common name “billy balls). In fact, it was downright inspirational to hear so many opinions being batted about. And since this is the one event where cameras are welcome, people were eagerly snapping pics on their iphones and cameras. Many of the floral designers were there watering their tender creations and were available for questions.
Tuan Tran, a Bay Area multimedia artist who works with recycled materials repeatedly and patiently answered questions about his tribute to sculptor Ruth Asawa whose signture looped and tied open forms were the basis of a spectacular solo show at the de Young in 2006-7. Tran had hand-crocheted old plastic-coated colored twisted-pair telephone wire into two drooping Asawa-like forms and complimented them with a few stark white cala lilies. Prior to fiber optics, all telephone communication was enabled via this wire consisting of two conductors twisted together for the purpose of cancelling out interference, or crosstalk, from external sources. A rich metaphor but relating it back to French Impressionism requires some effort.
How do designers get matched up with paintings? Since some designers have been participating for 20 years, they were happy to share about how important getting matched with the “right” artwork is. I learned that they either submitted (repeatedly) a request for a specific artwork or they were given a list of several works to choose from and they ranked their choices and then waiting on the powers that be to match everyone with an artwork. After the artwork was assigned, most designers labored long and hard to find the appropriate container and then selected their flowers based on color and lasting power for a 5 day stint.
For some participants, like Berkeley designer Svenja Brotz of Chestnut and Vine Floral Design, it was a matter of constructing a black laquer memory box andputting it on a stand and filling each partition with a floral design and then discretly attaching tiny vials of water to the structureto support the stems and vines that encircled this box. This partitioning corresponded very well with Eadweard Muybridge’s, Plate 490 (Self-Portrait)” –a sequence of photos adding up to a human locomotion study of a nude male (Muybridge himself) sitting down, sprinkling water, stooping for the cup and then drinking.
For many, this year’s impressionist theme led them to select painterly hues of very closely-matched color palettes ranging from the softest pinks to bold deep almost black purples. When flowers were tightly arranged next to each other, the result was a very rich and textural flower carpet. Sadly, because most of these flowers are hot-house grown there was not much fragrance in the air. There were also plentiful use of variegated foilage with striking contrasts.
Some standout creations were—
Ron Morgan, Berkeley created a fantastic hat of tea leaves, flax leaves, succulents and deep purple cala lilies based on the repeating turban in Julia Margaret Cameron’s “Portrait of a Woman (Louise Beatrice de Fonblanque),” 1868. (Concourse Level, Gallery 12A)
Pico Soriano and assistants Alexandria Christakos and Pia Ramos created a cheery bright yellow lampshade of yellow craspedia (billy balls) with dangling crystal beads that corresponds to Elmer Bischoff’s “Yellow Lampshade,” 1969. (Concourse Level, Gallery 14C)
Twigs and Ivy Floral Studio, Phyllis A. Brady and Joe Brady (San Ramon) fabricated two glorious suits of deep purple carnations and bright pink , red, orange and apricot carnations and red ti leaves with pin-cushion orange proteas, woven on wire corset frames with satin ribbon straps eloquently echoing the lovely bathers in David Park’s “Two Bathers,” 1958. (Concourse Level 14D)
J. Miller Flowers and Gifts, Valerie Lee Ow; co-exhibitor Maureen Owens; assistant Robin H. Lee, Oakland “Super Size Me” giant colorful balls of spray roses, blue thistle,
statice, billy buttons, carnations, reindeer moss, mini carnations, brown chrysanthemums that correspond to Wayne Thiebaud’s “Three Machines,” 1963 (Concourse Level, Gallery 14J)
Leila Simms “Word of Mouth” is made from birch, Spanish moss, lichen, reindeer moss, nuts and bolts, small tiles, air plants and cacti and is inspired by Sono Oasto’s “Meena,” 2005. (Concourse Level, Gallery 16H)
Orchard Nursery & Florist, Carolyn Russell and Wanda Nash, Lafayette created an orchid and hummingbird that correspond to Martin Johnson Heade’s “Orchid and Hummingbird,” ca 1885. (Second Floor Gallery 26D)
Laurelle Hartley Thom’s (Lafayette) magnificent landscape arrangement of hawthorne’s, forget-me-nots, tweedia, orchids, monte cassino, hydrangea, gypsophyillia (baby’s breath) and belladonna capturing the pastoral and sublime beauty of Albert Bierstadt’s “California Spring,” 1875. (Second Floor Gallery 26J)
Monday night’s gala included exquisite French cuisine, live music by Moodswing Orchestra and a parade of models wearing gowns and accessories made entirely of real flowers created by environmental design students at participating Bay Area colleges. Next year, I am going to attend the “real party.”
Over its 26th years, Bouquets to Art has attracted nearly 550,000 visitors and raised over $4.52 million in net proceeds, which have funded an impressive roster of special exhibitions, art acquisitions, educational programs, and projects at the Legion of Honor and the de Young Museum. Recent exhibitions supported by Bouquets to Art include International Arts and Crafts: William Morris to Frank Lloyd Wright, 2005, Marie-Antoinette at the Petit Trianon, 2007, and The State Museums of Berlin and the Legacy of James Simon, 2008. funds have enabled the acquisition of the Crown Point Press Archive, a rare Nimrud ivory from Mesopotamia dating from the 8–9th century, an exceptional early 20th-century French glass vase by Emile
Galle, a Paracas turban and a Naxca Colombian woven band. The Fine Arts Museums’ Education Department has also received support from Bouquets to Art for its Get Smart with Art program, and in 2007 it received a substantial gift of unrestricted funds.
Schedule for the rest of the week–
Friday, April 23: 9:30 am–8:45 pm: Floral exhibits and, at noon, the popular Hat Day, presided over by Jan Wahl, KRON TV and KCBS radio personality. Visitors are encouraged to wear hats adorned with flowers. Prizes will be awarded in categories that include Moulin Rouge or Soiree hats, Boating on the Seine River, Can-Can, and Glamorous Garden Party Hats, with a separate judging category for the professional hat designers that the event attracts.
Saturday, April 24: 9:30 am–5:15 pm: Floral exhibits, benefit drawing.
Visiting the de Young:
Address: Golden Gate Park 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive San Francisco, CA 94118
Hours: Tuesday–Thursday, Saturday and Sunday: 9:30 am–5:15 pm Friday: 9:30 am–8:45 pm; closed on Monday
Admission: $20 adults