On July 29, 2016, two corpse flowers bloom in New York. In the Bronx, at the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory of the New York Botanical Garden is Amorphophallus Titanum, which opens for just 36-hours every decade or so. I’m ready to be overwhelmed by the odour of putrescent flesh but find it a curiously pleasant experience. There is the faintest perfume of raw meat, a slight fishiness tempered by the metallic tang of old blood and, if you step further back into the conservatory, a kind of velvety, woodsy melange, but none of the fetid stench I was expecting.
In Brooklyn is Tommy Coleman’s gristly ‘My Corpse Flower (With Dandelions)’ (2016) in The Plant Show, running at 99¢ Plus Gallery from July 29 to September 25 and curated by Simran Johnston. Made from sex-safe silicone, human hair, soil, and dandelions, this corpse flower is less frilly tropical maw and more the disembodied hand ‘Thing’ from the Addams Family. The exhibition is the second in a series centred around objects of domesticity (the first took lamps as its theme) and features 24 artists presenting ways to bring plant life into the home.
Houseplants are the best kind of durational performance. They demand no fidgety endurance and only the occasional tenderness: a background purifier app for your home. Here, kelly green walls make the gallery a literalised greenhouse. Planters, vases and other receptacles—ceramics and concrete predominate—house a profusion of leafy flora provided by the neighbouring Florencia’s Flower Shop. There’s a certain gleeful experimentation throughout, as in Diana Lozano’s deliciously gloopy synthetic sculpture ‘Daisy’s Weapons’ (2016)—webbed straps and dangling beads suggest the late-capitalist detritus of a melted street stall—or the lovely mylar ripples of Maggie Wong’s ‘Room to Grow’ and ‘Container 1’ (both 2016). Especially compelling was Priscilla Jeong’s ‘FlaqueD’eau’ (2016), in which a single-stemmed flower rests on an impossibly oval bed of water. Hydrophobic coating on a horizontal plexiglass plane maintains the shape, and altogether dispenses with the need for any container. Sometimes the price list quietly winks, with Kylie White’s $666 statuesque steel sculpture ‘Hell’s Bells’ (2016) and Corey Rubin’s ‘Pepsi Native Sometimes’ in which a Prickly pear native to New York state strains through the tab hole of the eponymous Pepsi can. The work is priced at 10¢, or about double what the artist might have received for recycling the can. As with NYC itself, it is unclear if the imported component (the essential oils listed in the accompanying literature cannot be smelled) feeds or chokes the growth.
Personally, I’ve never met a houseplant I couldn’t kill; I buy flowers every week to watch—to smell, really—them die. In The Plant Show, palms, succulents, vines and other green things are swiftly replaced as they wane but its olfactory deadness still surprises. Cedar oil would usually perfume the air, wafting over from the concurrent HANDJOB space show (the two galleries share the tiny storefront), but during my visit, the diffuser had been turned off. Ryan Oskin’s ‘Amazon Lights’ (2016), a concrete flowerpot staked with mosquito-repelling incense similarly promises, but shies away from the expected citronella tang. Whatever the show fails to deliver in vegetal smells, however, it more than makes up for in unabashed embrace of fun. This is the kind of exhibition that makes you smile and occasionally grin. I just wish they’d allow the plants to decay.**