Art trees grow in the asphalt jungle
Plant life provides inspiration for more than 40 artists including Charles Ray, Sarah Lucas and Michael Stipe
By Charlotte Burns. News, Issue 248, July-August 2013
Published online: 02 July 2013
The American musician and visual artist Michael Stipe is one of around 40 artists taking part in the exhibition “Something About a Tree” at New York’s Flag Art Foundation (10 July-7 September). The subject has proved surprisingly fertile. “I didn’t expect that there would be so many artists in the show—but I discovered that just about every artist who ever lived has made a tree work,” says the arts journalist (and contributor to The Art Newspaper) Linda Yablonsky, who has organised the show.
There are works by artists including Charles Ray, Sarah Lucas, Giuseppe Penone, Tacita Dean, Rodney Graham and Zoe Leonard (Red Apples, 2002), as well as by a notable figure of the 1960s music scene, Rory McEwen, whose hyperrealist paintings are also on show at Kew Gardens in London (until 22 September).
Some artists have made new works for the exhibition, including Oscar Tuazon, who has created a concrete and steel homage to trees (Wet Rock, 2013). Other works, such as a 10ft-tall prototype for a tree by Ugo Rondinone—Bright Shiny Morning, 1997—are on show for the first time. There is a range of photographic works, including Sally Gall’s Thirst, 2001, a gelatin silver-print image shot from the bottom of a cave into which a tree’s roots droop like stalactites.
Other pieces are more abstract, such as Stipe’s New York Dolls, 2010, an installation involving a chair and a blown-up image of the cover of the glam-punk group’s debut album. “I told him I was doing this show and he said he had a work he wanted to do,” Yablonsky says.
The focus on trees was partly inspired by an interview with the artist Cyprien Gaillard that Yablonsky conducted two days before Glenn Fuhrman, the founder of the Flag Art Foundation, asked her to organise a show. Gaillard had shown Yablonsky a limited-edition artist’s book that he had made of his nocturnal photographs of trees in Los Angeles (Nightlife, 2011, included in the show). “They were very moody and strange and quite beautiful, nearly abstract,” she says. “I kept thinking about Tacita Dean’s painted tree photographs and postcards, and wondered what other artists had done.”
“I see trees everywhere now, in almost every exhibition,” Yablonsky says. “A tree is a figure in a landscape; each one is different. They’re magnificent when they’re full or tall or old and extremely poignant when they are bare or dead. They die in the winter and come alive in the spring, which gives them a dimension of life that is uplifting. They provide oxygen for us to breathe; we can’t live without them. And now I can’t live without tree art.”
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