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

The Wolfsonian’s exhibition, ‘Philodendron: From Pan-Latin Exotic to American Modern’, is a sumptuous visual treat that showcases the influence of this region’s tropical flora on other parts of the world
The Wolfsonian’s exhibition, ‘Philodendron: From Pan-Latin Exotic to American Modern’, is a sumptuous visual treat that showcases the influence of this region’s tropical flora on other parts of the world
(Image credit: TBC)

Leave it to the Wolfsonian (opens in new tab), 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 (opens in new tab)’ 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.

artwork on display

The show brings together 150 objects spanning fashion, paintings, film, architecture, artifacts and design 

(Image credit: TBC)

A sampling of magazines, paperback romance novels and advertising that relied on philodendrons to transports its viewers to another place

A sampling of magazines, paperback romance novels and advertising that relied on philodendrons to transports its viewers to another place

(Image credit: TBC)

plant exhibits in the museum

There are also numerous scientific studies that reflect a prolonged historical interest in Central America and its plants

(Image credit: TBC)

two paintings and some books displayed

Western artists, designers, and architects, such as Frederick Edwin Church, Henri Matisse, and Dorothy Draper embraced and transformed these symbols to represent national identity

(Image credit: TBC)

The exhibtion also features a special commission in the Wolfsonian’s lobby by the Columbian-German landscape architect team Mauricio del Valle and Veronika Schunk,which uses live specimens of different philodendron species

The exhibtion also features a special commission in the Wolfsonian’s lobby by the Columbian-German landscape architect team Mauricio del Valle and Veronika Schunk,which uses live specimens of different philodendron species

(Image credit: TBC)

Clothing and other items on display

The resulting, popularised of tropical iconography is very much alive today

(Image credit: TBC)

INFORMATION

Philodendron: From Pan-Latin Exotic to American Modern (opens in new tab)’ is now on view until 28 February 2016 

ADDRESS

Wolfsonian (opens in new tab)
1001 Washington Avevnue
Miami Beach, Florida

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Pei-Ru Keh is the US Editor at Wallpaper*. Born and raised in Singapore, she has been a New Yorker since 2013. Pei-Ru has held various titles at Wallpaper* since she joined in 2007. She currently reports on design, art, architecture, fashion, beauty and lifestyle happenings in the United States, both in print and digitally. Pei-Ru has taken a key role in championing diversity and representation within Wallpaper's content pillars and actively seeks out stories that reflect a wide range of perspectives. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two children, and is currently learning how to drive.