Main Space

Almost Baroque: Nine Floral "Paintings" from El Mundo (February 15 - April 12, 2009)

This exhibition presents contemporary flower "paintings"--based on Baroque and Rococo still lives--that we purchased at a nearby El Mundo department store. They aren't real "paintings", they are prints created from paintings made in an art-factory in southern China.

We bought them because, as art historians, we were intriued by the fact that El Mundo sells them as unauthored, untitled, and undated works. Clearly, they must be copies of historic paintings, we thought. We interviewed Dutch still life experts in Europe and consulted museum collection catalogues. What we've determined is that while they are based on preexisting paintings, they aren't straightforward copies. Some are loose approximations--"improved" for mass-market salability; others are pastiches, combining details from an assortment of works.

Floral still lifes were symbols of great wealth and taste in seventeenth-century Holland and Flanders (now Belgum). Cut flowers--particularly tulips and varietals introduced from other countries--were expensive and flower paintings provided people an economical substitute that bloomed all year round. Despite the fact that many Dutch still lifes look like they were painted from observation, they weren't. They are fictional recreations, also pastiches, combining flowers that bloom at different times in a single image.

The downtown art world would not consider the "paintings" in this exhibition to be art, even though they are wholly originally images. They are mass-produced, they are anonymous and unsigned, and they have no economic value and likely never will. To us, these are positive values. On the surface these "paintings" look conservative and old fashioned, but they present--intentionally or not--a radical proposition for what art can be.


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