Robert Mapplethorpe’s Photographs and Patti Smith’s Lyrics Blossom at Selby Gardens in Florida

  • SARASOTA, Florida
  • /
  • March 31, 2022

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Robert Mapplethorpe, Hyacinth, 1987.

Marie Selby Botanical Gardens (Selby Gardens) spotlights the creative practices of Robert Mapplethorpe, one of the most significant photographers of the 20th century, and legendary singer-songwriter and poet Patti Smith in an immersive and multisensory exhibition in the Gardens’ 15-acre Downtown Sarasota, Florida, campus. Marking the sixth edition of Selby Gardens’ annual Jean & Alfred Goldstein Exhibition Series, which explores the work of major artists through the lens of their connection to nature, the exhibition presents a selection of Mapplethorpe’s iconic photographs of orchids, hyacinths, and irises, and Smith’s poems on flowers and nature as well as her music, in dialogue with new horticultural installations inspired by the two artists’ work.

On view now through June 26, 2022, Robert Mapplethorpe and Patti Smith: Flowers, Poetry, and Light is curated by Dr. Carol Ockman, Selby Gardens’ Curator-at-Large and the Robert Sterling Clark Professor of Art History Emerita at Williams College. 

Said Jennifer Rominiecki, President & CEO of Selby Gardens, "Marking the first time that Selby Gardens has presented the work of a living artist and a contemporary photographer in the series, this exhibition creates an immersive experience for our visitors. Our gardens and floral displays will set the stage for a unique cultural encounter and exchange with two of the most iconic artists of our time."

Installation image of a living still life, lit and framed to evoke the same classical principles that Mapplethorpe embraces in his work, on view as part of the exhibition.

Mapplethorpe and Smith met the day that Smith moved to New York City in the summer of 1967. Their enduring relationship, through which the two spent time as artistic collaborators, lovers, and ultimately friends, proved formative to each other’s creative practice and artistic output. Flowers, Poetry, and Light reunites Mapplethorpe and Smith in a garden setting, presenting works by each inspired by nature during the counterculture movements of the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s.

Selby Gardens’ Tropical Conservatory, world-renowned for its collection of orchids and bromeliads, is reimagined as a photography studio and gallery, complete with drop cloth, box lights, and living plants framed and suspended as still lifes. The experience throughout the Conservatory is enhanced with the sounds of Smith’s iconic Horses album, the cover of which features her portrait by Mapplethorpe and serves as the first dramatic visual upon entering the Conservatory.

The Museum of Botany & the Arts presents Mapplethorpe’s exquisite flower photographs, including Orchid, Irises, and Hyacinth, made at Graphicstudio at the University of South Florida in Tampa together with Smith’s haunting writings and lyrics. Reproductions of historic photographs of the two artists, their friends, lovers, and living spaces tell the story, accompanied by Smith’s own words.

Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe IV, 1969. Photograph © Norman Seeff

Throughout the exhibition, horticultural installations inspired by the two artists’ creative practices evoke vignettes from their shared histories in color palettes that connect back to their work-with rich, deeply hued varieties for Smith and flora in grayscale for Mapplethorpe. Some installations position the viewer as the photographer, looking through the viewfinder, and others evoke a gallery with plants framed as living art or an urban landscape like the area around the Chelsea Hotel in New York City, where the two lived in early days of their relationship. Archival images, music from two of Smith’s early albums, and her own narration of her award-winning book Just Kids animate the visitor experience. A poetry walk including excerpted verses from Smith’s work provides moments of reflection within the gardens and underscores the rich symbolism of flowers.

"Through this unique and immersive installation, visitors can explore Mapplethorpe’s aesthetic strategies for capturing beauty, including his debts to classical sources and the specific ways he uses light, composition, and color in images of flowers," said Dr. Carol Ockman, the exhibition’s curator. "These principles of classicism, sensuality, and beauty are echoed from the museum throughout the gardens and conservatory, and are highlighted by the resounding words of Smith, Mapplethorpe’s once lover, close friend, and muse."

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