A New Gallery Examines the Eternal Pull of Flowers
It may be November, but flowers still bloom at the Lobby, a new gallery inside the Ellen Browning cohousing building on SE Division Street. Upon stepping inside the small space, visitors will find a wide array of paintings, bronze sculptures, ceramic vases, iPad drawings by English painter David Hockney, Andy Warhol monoprints, and an immersive video installation that depicts the evolution of a flower in an hour.
The 12-monitor installation titled Flowers and People—A Whole Year per Hour was created by TeamLab—an international collective of artists, programmers, engineers, mathematicians, architects, and designers—and is the focal point of The Earth Laughs, an exhibition centered on flower and nature-inspired art.
Sima Familant, the show’s New York and Austin, Texas–based curator, says she has previously seen TeamLab’s art around the world. The collective has exhibitions in a number of cities, including Tokyo, Shanghai, Miami, and New York. But this is the first time TeamLab’s visually and technically intricate digital art has made an appearance in Portland. And it comes in the form of a three-dimensional floral presentation powered by a computer program that continuously renders the work in real time, meaning viewers never see the same image twice, says Familant.
A motion sensor allows the installation to react to the viewer. Clusters of flowers bloom and petals fall as observers move in and out from the monitors. It’s not something one might expect to find in the lobby of a building that’s open and free to the public, but it was explicitly designed to invite public participation. "This space is on a public street that is really fun and engaged,” says Familant. “Why not try to be a part of that?”
Since its opening in May, Familant says, the gallery has invited classes from neighboring Hosford Middle School for educational lectures from the artists. For The Earth Laughs, LA-based artist Max Jansons—whose traditional oil on canvas painting is on view—spoke to a visiting math class from the school.
The artwork that the kids gravitated to wasn’t what Familant expected. “I thought they would all go to the 12-monitor installation, but a lot of people went to the ‘Big Book’ by David Hockney,” she says. “A lot of the kids just looked through the book.”
Visitors can slip on a pair of gloves before handling the pages of the large book, which is full of paintings by Hockney. On a wall next to it is more of the English artist's work: The Arrival of Spring in Woodgate, East Yorkshire in 2011, illustrations he created with an iPad. Familant chose each piece from the private collection of the building’s owner, Molly McCabe.
Along a hidden hallway, visitors can view a series of prints depicting red dogwoods, purple tulips, and azaleas painted by nonagenarian figurative artist Alex Katz. A digital painting by Petra Cortright hangs near the front door beside a series of monoprints by Andy Warhol. And among all the canvases and frames stands Marguerite Humeau’s bronze sculpture of an exploded poppy flower, a ceramic vase by Karin Gulbran that requires a 360-degree view to see the entire image of cats and yellow flowers, and Fernando and Humberto Campana’s Pirarucu Flowers Vase, a cast-bronze sculpture that embodies the scales of the pirarucu, a fish that lives in the basin of the Amazon River.
“What kind of conversations can come up with bringing these artworks together under the rubric that they all have flowers in them?” says Familant. “I tried to make it a little bit more interesting with different mediums. You can kind of see how all different artists are dealing with the same theme, but just in their own way.”
Each piece has its own draw, but together the exhibition offers a window into a dynamic world of flowers, and serves as a strangely, compelling contrast to the falling autumn leaves in Portland.
10 a.m.–2 p.m. Tue–Sat, 2871 SE Division St