Tropical fever: The Wolfsonian in Miami gives the common houseplant its due

Tropical fever: The Wolfsonian in Miami gives the common houseplant its due

Leave it to the Wolfsonian, the multi-dexterous museum/library/research centre of the Florida International University, to make a common houseplant the subject for its latest exhibition. Inspired by philodendrons, a plant variety native to Latin America and now a mainstay in many households, the institution has charted how these and fellow tropical plants have ventured away from their Central American birthplaces to the rest of the world.

Philodendron: From Pan-Latin Exotic to American Modern’ is a sumptuous visual treat that showcases the influence of this region’s tropical flora. Bringing together about 150 objects spanning fashion, paintings, film, architecture, artifacts and design, the exhibition showcases three centuries’ worth of creativity in a vivid setting. Some noteworthy highlights include a 1935 etching by Henri Matisse; an early example of the artist’s study of philodendrons, and never-before-seen photographs of the American botanist David Fairchild’s 1932/33 plant-hunting expedition in the Caribbean.

‘Philodendrons now grow in the US like weeds and decorate every home – they are so common that they go unnoticed’, says Wolfsonian curator Christian Larsen, who instigated the exhibition. ‘By focusing our attention on the way they have inspired artists and designers, we tell a story of Pan-American exchange and American notions, including stereotypes of the tropics.”

In addition to scientific studies of the plants that reflect historical interests, the exhibition is filled with pop cultural references, such as the way tropical plants were incorporated in cruise advertising in the 1930s, to paperback romance novels, seductive Hollywood set design and modernist home settings of the 40s, 50s and 60s. Coming straight up to present day, this affectionate homage will leave you with a newfound appreciation for an overlooked aspect of the home.

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