Art in Bloom

Art in Bloom is the Saint Louis Art Museum’s most popular annual show. We caught it yesterday, on its final day. It is an event that is so well attended that special traffic signage and shuttle buses are introduced to handle the crowds. We parked just outside the park and hike into it and then up Art Hill.

The noble Duke of York, he had 10K men, he marched them up the hill, and marched them down again…

Inside the museum, we were greeted by throngs of the vast unwashed mob. I swear that for many people this event is like their annual pilgrimage to worship upon the altar of culture. The event is pretty simple to explain. About a dozen or so local florists are invited to compete. Each artist is paired with one of the museum’s artworks and asked to create a bouquet that complements that work. Floral displays are judged, and ribbons awarded for bragging rights. Works chosen are always from the permanent collection and usually only ones that are on display in one of the museum’s larger rooms. Remember that vast unwashed mob? They must throng someplace. Our visit last weekend was not the usual quiet, contemplative Slammer experience.

Some observations:

  • Florist who draws art from the contemporary wing have an advantage over those getting more classical artworks. Flower arrangements tend to be much more pixilated than brush strokes. Although the use of a pair of Painter’s Palettes to represent the boatman’s red kerchiefs was an effective touch. Usually, the floral artist just tries to match the painting’s colors.
  • We caught this show on its last day and after four days of display, many of the flowers were beginning to look wilted. Being members, we could have caught them earlier at their peak radiance, but other activities got in our way. Something to remember for next year.
  • This year’s Art in Bloom coincided with an unusually large amount of turnover in the museum’s displays. If not for the distraction of this flower show, a visit to the museum would have been rather disappointing. Still, these developments bode well for this Spring.

By the time that we made it upstairs to the American section, I was getting tired of having to wade into these throngs, when I overhead a pair of women. One was pointing out to the other which figure in one of Bingham’s large crowd paintings, was the artist himself. I interrupted by mansplaining how Bingham created these tableaus by first individually drawing their human subjects and then inserting them into the crowd. He maintained a portfolio of people that he reused from one painting to the next. Late in life the artist fell into debt and had to sell his portfolio. I should have stopped there, because while he did sell them to the downtown Mercantile Library, they are no longer there, but are now held by the Saint Louis and Kansas City art museums. The Mercantile Library is not even downtown anymore but has since moved to UMSL.

Like I said, I should have stopped there, but I was on a roll, and I had an audience. I led the women to the next room where the statue Zenobia in Chains was on display. I swear, a Slammer security guard told me that a WashU student found it in an antique store on Cherokee Street, bought it for a song and then donated it to the museum. The true story is only intertwined with these facts. A collector originally purchased the statue and then donated to the art museum in the 19th-century, back when the SLAM was part of WashU’s art department. In 1950 the museum loaned it to the Cherokee Caves Museum. When that museum closed in the Sixties, it was auctioned off, before coming home again.

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