Flower power: Taryn Simon explores politics and global wealth at the Gagosian

Taryn Simon exhibition
The photographer Taryn Simon's latest body of work uses flower arrangements as political commentary on key agreements that were signed in recent history
(Image credit: Taryn Simon and Gagosian Gallery)

When artist Taryn Simon came across a photo of Adolf Hitler signing an agreement surrounded by dignitaries, she was struck by a seemingly incongruous floral centerpiece in the middle of the scene. Later, she noticed another flower arrangement in a photo of the 1944 Bretton Woods Conference – a conference held in the United States that established the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. Over and over, Simon came across these generic images of men signing world-changing agreements with a floral arrangement nearby.

Combining this motif with a 19th century horticulture book, Simon crafted her latest exhibition, ‘Paperwork and the Will of Capital’. For it, she recreated 36 flower arrangements used in signings that involve the countries present at Bretton Woods. She worked with a botanist to identify the flowers and imported over 4,000 plants from the world’s largest flower auction in Aalsmeer, The Netherlands. Each of the arrangements is also an 'impossible bouquet', a concept that emerged from 17th-century Dutch still-lifes, in which flowers that could not exist together in real life due to seasonality or distance are painted together as a show of status and wealth.

‘Taryn has the instincts and energies of an investigative reporter,’ says Gagosian gallery director Louise Neri. ‘Her work is the point of departure where the instability of facts and history are revealed.’

The arrangements are presented as 215-cm-by-186-cm prints, with the original table and background distilled into one-third foreground and two-third background blocks of color. Displayed in mahogany frames to emulate boardroom furniture and accompanied by an inset description of the treaty signing, these are Simon’s largest single images to date.

Additionally, the artist created her first sculptures by crafting 12 concrete flower presses for each arrangement that house dried and pressed versions of the flowers used for the photographs, sewn on archival herbarium paper. The sculptures are doubles themselves, in the sense that they can bedisplayed as an open book or in the closed, 'pressed' version.

They also include 12 additional photographs of the arrangements Simon created before selecting the larger photographs, along with descriptions of the treaties and their contexts. Her intentions here refer to the fact that we ultimately don't know which versions of these agreements will actually last – the physical flowers, the photographs, the treaties or even the English language itself.

Taryn Simon art display

Struck by a photo she saw of Adolf Hitler signing a treaty surrounded by dignitaries with a seemingly incongruous floral centerpiece in the middle of the scene, Simon began extensive research to identify and recreate the flowers that appeared at other key events

(Image credit: Taryn Simon and Gagosian Gallery)

Pictured: Agreement Establishing the International Islamic Trade Finance Corporation, Al-Bayan Palace, Kuwait City, Kuwait, May 30, 2006

An arrangement of tea roses, gerberas, hydrangeas and dendrobium represents the establishing of the International Islamic Trade Finance Corporation in 2006. The agreement was created to conduct sharia-compliant trade finance in 57 member states, including Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, Sudan, Iran, Turkey, Yemen and Libya. Pictured: Agreement Establishing the International Islamic Trade Finance Corporation, Al-Bayan Palace, Kuwait City, Kuwait, May 30, 2006

(Image credit: Taryn Simon and Gagosian Gallery)

Pictured: Memorandum of Understanding between the Royal Government of Cambodia and the Government of Australia Relating to the Settlement of Refugees in Cambodia, Ministry of Interior, Phnom Penh, Cambodia, September 26, 2014

In 2014, Australian immigration minister Scott Morrison and Cambodian interior minister Sar Kheng signed an agreement to transfer Australian refugees from Nauru to Cambodia. Anthuriums, dendrobiums, mokara orchids and tea roses were present. Pictured: Memorandum of Understanding between the Royal Government of Cambodia and the Government of Australia Relating to the Settlement of Refugees in Cambodia, Ministry of Interior, Phnom Penh, Cambodia, September 26, 2014

(Image credit: Taryn Simon and Gagosian Gallery)

Pictured: Bratislava Declaration, Bratislava, Slovakia, August 3, 1968

An arrangement of carnations symbolise the 1968 Bratislava Declaration, where representatives from the Bulgarian Communist Party, Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party, Socialist Unity Party of Germany, Polish United Workers’ Party, Communist Party of the Soviet Union, and the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia reaffirmed their commitment to Marxism-Leninism. The piece is in black and white to reflect the black and white nature of the source material. Pictured: Bratislava Declaration, Bratislava, Slovakia, August 3, 1968

(Image credit: Taryn Simon and Gagosian Gallery)

Taryn Simon exhibits

In addition to being the largest single images Simon has created to date, the show also presents the artist’s first sculptures: 12 concrete flower presses for each arrangement that house dried and pressed versions of the flowers used for the photographs, sewn on archival herbarium paper

(Image credit: Taryn Simon and Gagosian Gallery)

A closer view of Simon’s flower press sculptures which can either be displayed as open ’book’, meant to be leafed through and observed, pictured right, or as a closed, ’pressed’ version, pictured left

A closer view of Simon’s flower press sculptures which can either be displayed as open ’book’, meant to be leafed through and observed, pictured right, or as a closed, ’pressed’ version, pictured left

(Image credit: Taryn Simon and Gagosian Gallery)

Pictured: a page showing pressed flowers, a photograph of the arrangement and accompanying text for the International Islamic Trade Finance Corporation agreement

Each page in the sculpture book is one-of-a-kind. Pictured: a page showing pressed flowers, a photograph of the arrangement and accompanying text for the International Islamic Trade Finance Corporation agreement

(Image credit: Taryn Simon and Gagosian Gallery)

Pictured: a page showing pressed flowers, a photograph of the arrangement and accompanying text for the International Islamic Trade Finance Corporation agreement

Simon worked with a botanist to make the physical specimens, while recreating each arrangement and photographing it specially each time to create a true edition of 12

(Image credit: Taryn Simon and Gagosian Gallery)

INFORMATION

‘Paperwork and the Will of Capital’ is on view until 26 March. For more details, visit that Gagosian’s website (opens in new tab)

All images © Taryn Simon, courtesy of Taryn Simon and Gagosian Gallery

ADDRESS

Gagosian Gallery
555 West 24th Street
New York, NY 10011

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