From form and color to environmental concerns

An exhibition at the Ludwig Museum in Cologne, Germany, examines the depiction of plants in visual arts.

The exhibition “Green Modernism: A New Perspective on Plants” raises the question that what plants mean to human. This collection of artworks in the exhibition takes the audience to the beginning of 20th century and presents the depiction of plants in visual arts and how they are generally considered in botany and society. This exhibition focuses on this issue with about 130 shows in four sections.

Some plants were considered as an alien and strange part of the world to people. Cacti became very popular at the beginning of the 20th century and they were harvested in America to be sold in German market. A person named Curt Beckberg, who was a collector of plants, has photos of him dressed in white and holding a lasso, like a hunter, standing next to a one meter tall cactus. Those who wanted to be modern filled their homes with cacti and other plants that naturally grew only in warm climates, but thanks to coal-fired heating and large windows they could also blossom inside European homes. In this exhibition, there are artworks about cacti showing different views about them.

Flowers and plants have always had an important role in women’s clothing. Even after 1918, when women changed their clothing style and cut their hair, the use of floral dresses continued so that Marlene Dietrich, the most famous star of German cinema, put a large flower in the buttonhole of her dark jacket as a sign of her fear of the “masculinization of modern women”. Tattooing flower patterns on body has also been another way for people to connect with plants.

The form and color of plants have always attracted artists. An artist called Karl Schmidt-Rottlaff used flowers and even poisonous plants to add a special color accent to painting. Karl Blossfeldt, photographer, was not interested in names and characteristics of plants but their shapes fascinated him.

Plant is also mentioned as a relative of human. The fact that plants are alive, move, have a pulse, and can be tired is explained by Jagadish Chandra Bose in his popular book, Plant Autographs and Their Revelations. Over the past decades, movies showing the rapid growth of plants have gained popularity. Various researches about plants narrowed the boundaries between different forms of life so it is not surprising that horror fantasies about plants can also be found in movies and literature.

“Green Modernism: A New Look at Plants” is an environmental management pilot project for the Ludwig Museum. Germany is committed to be carbon neutral by 2045. Cultural institutions must also create new environmental standards for their activities, more especially museums, which are one of the main CO2 emitters in the world due to their air conditioning, lighting, audience attraction and transportation.

This exhibition also surveys the possibilities of sustainable exhibitions. Shipping and packaging of artworks, using less wood and water, publishing online catalogs, publishing printed items on Blue Angel certified paper with mineral oil-free ink, recycling decorations as well as altering and reusing old exhibition booths, and dedicating one euro of each entrance ticket to German nature conservation project are some examples of these environmental activities.

Source: ArtOnline