Every year since 1981, the San Diego Museum of Art has set aside a spring weekend for Art Alive, an exhibition of art-inspired floral designs. For Art Alive, floral designers create artistic flower arrangements inspired by works from the SDMA’s collections. The museum displays them alongside the originals during a long weekend of parties and activities. Typically, more than 12,000 visitors attend Art Alive over the several days of events.
This year’s edition of Art Alive was supposed to include art-inspired floral designs by almost 100 designers, but world events had other ideas. The San Diego Museum of Art is currently closed to visitors, but Art Alive simply went digital. After a virtual kick-off party called Bloom Bash, the museum featured more than 50 designers’ arrangements, all created from home, on its website and social media accounts. You can enjoy all the art-inspired floral designs here and here.
Here are the stories behind some of the museum’s artworks and the floral displays they inspired.
Composition in Color by Jean Helion
This year’s designers displayed amazing creativity with the limited materials available to them in their homes. While plants and flowers form the basis for most of the art-inspired floral designs, other household items play starring roles as well. In Jan Kugler’s arrangement, for example, pieces of colored paper beautifully assist flowers in evoking Jean Helion’s abstract painting Composition in Color.
The Shadows by Rene Magritte
Belgian Surrealist René Magritte (1898-1967) is known for his paintings that use ordinary objects, such as apples and pipes, in unusual and thought-provoking ways. The Shadows (1966) juxtaposes a tree with a pipe, and both objects appear to be the same size despite their wildly-different scales in real life. To evoke this, floral designer Abigail Allen made this gorgeous photograph of a shadowy ash tree with pale driftwood behind it.
Trompe l’Oeil Still Life by Samuel van Hoogstraten
Dutch Golden Age painter Samuel van Hoogstraten (1627-1678) painted several trompe l’oeil still life compositions like this one. Trompe l’oeil, meaning trick of the eye, refers to a strongly naturalistic painting intended to trick the viewer into thinking that the two-dimensional painting is actually the three-dimensional object depicted. Compositions showing objects attached to a wall or board are common subjects for trompe l’oeil paintings. I love how designers William and Janie Jones created a real-life version of this composition using a trellis and various plants. Visit the virtual exhibition to see their interpretation.
This regal-looking, 17th-century wooden sculpture represents Amida Buddha, the main Buddha of Pure Land Buddhism, a form of Mahayana Buddhism that is practiced in eastern Asia. This image of Amida Buddha sits serenely on a throne with a lotus flower for a base. Designer Melissa Cummings brilliantly mimicked this throne in her floral arrangement by covering a small barbecue grill in large palm leaves and several other plants.
Vicente Maria de Vera de Aragon, Duque de la Roca by Francisco de Goya
This is Spanish great Francisco de Goya‘s portrait of the Duque de la Roca, a decorated army captain, scholar, and proponent of the arts. The duke posed wearing many medals and sashes that indicate his various ranks and memberships, including the Order of the Golden Fleece. Goya’s beautiful depiction of white satin clothing dominates this simple-but-dignified portrait, accented by the gilt chair and contrasted by the colorful ribbons. Similarly, Kathryn Schneider’s art-inspired floral design uses primarily white flowers accented by contrasts from red and yellow flowers and green leaves. A blue-and-white ribbon at the base reflects the sitter’s most prominent sash – that of the Order of Charles III. Check out the virtual exhibition to see Schneider’s arrangement.
The Seine Valley at Mézy by Berthe Morisot
Berthe Morisot (1841-1895) was one of the most famous female Impressionists, and probably one of the most famous female artists ever. She exhibited at seven of the eight Impressionist exhibitions and was close with many of the other Impressionists. This landscape looks at first like a watercolor sketch, but it is, in fact, an oil painting. Rich blues and green dominate, drawing the eye with their intensity. Blues, greens, and purples also dominate Erin Kluzak’s lovely floral interpretation, which you can see in the virtual exhibition.
An Elephant, composite, made up of dancing women serves as a mount to an archer
This 19th-century Indian watercolor miniature comes from the Edwin Binney 3rd Collection, a celebrated collection of South Asian art compiled by an heir to the Crayola crayon company fortune. The collection came to the San Diego Museum of Art in 1990. It depicts a group of dancing women assisting an archer in climbing on top of a large elephant. Floral designer Rachel Hecathorn mimicked the watercolor’s festive composition by covering wood, foam, and a plant stand in a variety of succulents and shells. A perfectly-shaped grapevine burr tops it all off with its strong resemblance to the archer himself.
Female Nude Reading by Robert Delaunay
Mother and son Suzy and Mike Gable’s interpretation of this painting is definitely my favorite art-inspired floral design in Art Alive 2020. They used a dress form to mimic the nude subject’s torso, while lots of colorful flowers reflecting the painting’s vibrant colors take the place of the woman’s hair. Robert Delaunay (1885-1941) was an avant-garde French painter. He and his wife, Sonia, created a non-objective art movement called Orphism. Although Female Nude Reading is much more representational than Orphism’s abstracted works, it still shows the movement’s love of abundant color. See the floral interpretation in the virtual exhibition and on SDMA’s social media.
Virtual Art Alive 2020
Check out all 56 works in the San Diego Museum of Art’s Art Alive 2020 virtual exhibition. The exhibition has art-inspired floral designs based on diverse artworks from the museum’s permanent collection. Even in its virtual form, it is a lot of fun.
– “Art Alive 2020“. Press release. San Diego Museum of Art. January 2, 2020.
– “Luca Signorelli” Virtual Uffizi Gallery.
– “Vicente María de la Vera de Aragón y Ladrón de Guevara, Marquis of Sofraga and Duke of La Roca (Vicente María de la Vera de Aragón y Ladrón de Guevara, marqués de sofraga y duque de la Roca)“. Fundación Goya en Aragón.
– Jenkins, Sarah and The Art Story Contributors (ed.). “Robert Delaunay Artist Overview and Analysis“. TheArtStory.org. First published on December 7, 2015. Updated and modified regularly.
– Tolles, Thayer. “Bessie Potter Vonnoh (1872–1955).” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. (April 2012).