(Nothing but) Flowers
July 30–September 13, 2020

Gertrude Abercrombie, Marina Adams, Henni Alftan, Ed Baynard, Nell Blaine, Dike Blair, Vern Blosum, Joe Brainard, Cecily Brown, Charles Burchfield, Matt Connors, Andrew Cranston, Ann Craven, Stephanie Crawford, Somaya Critchlow, Verne Dawson, Lois Dodd, Peter Doig, Nicole Eisenman, Ida Ekblad, Minnie Evans, Marley Freeman, Jane Freilicher, Mark Grotjahn, James Harrison, Lubaina Himid, Samuel Hindolo, Reggie Burrows Hodges, Max Jansons, Ernst Yohji Jaeger, Sanya Kantarovsky, Alex Katz, Karen Kilimnik, Zenzaburo Kojima, Matvey Levenstein, Shannon Cartier Lucy, Calvin Marcus, Helen Marden, Jeanette Mundt, Soumya Netrabile, Woody De Othello, Sanou Oumar, Jennifer Packer, Nicolas Party, Hilary Pecis, Richard Pettibone, Elizabeth Peyton, Amy Sillman, Elaine Sturtevant, Tabboo!, Honor Titus, Uman, Susan Jane Walp, Stanley Whitney, Jonas Wood, Matthew Wong, Albert York, Manoucher Yektai, and Lisa Yuskavage

188 & 172 East 2nd Street
New York NY 10009

Each flower was laid out on a piece of fancy cardboard, upon which my mother would very dutifully write both the vernacular and Latin name of the flower in her studied pen-manship—each letter the same size, each perfectly legible. Then a piece of onion skin paper was gently laid on top, the press was opened and the cardboard, flower, and its delicate paper protector joined its brethren, the cumulative weight of all of them, screwed down by wing nuts, pressing the flowers flat for posterity. It would be nearly a half a century before I realized how much of the mother-child dyad lies in the mother’s constant Adamic function. This is called this; this is called that. Such skills would come in handy as I learned to walk through the halls of museums silently calling off artists’ names—Gericault, David, Cezanne—before heading to the gift shop to buy postcards of my favorites. Flowers, it turns out, were my first aide de memoire.

– excerpt from Helen Molesworth, “Flowers and Vases”

Karma is pleased to announce the reopening of its gallery space with (Nothing but) Flowers, a group exhibition consisting of over 50 artists. The artists selected for this exhibition comprise a large swath of friends, collaborators, and heroes whose critical work has provided ongoing inspiration. Their broad-ranging works cohere around the simple, omnipresent trope of the flower.

This year has seen many landmark moments, and has come with its share of demanding experiences. The political and social landscape changed swiftly and decisively throughout the country and across the world, resulting in a sweeping struggle to adapt and an unresolved craving for any sense of normalcy. Between activism for racial justice, sudden isolation, and the systemic inequalities thrown into harsh relief by the COVID-19 pandemic, New York City has undergone novel restructuring, and the uncertain path towards an endpoint has been steeped in an ongoing questioning. In this difficult period of pause, many of us have turned toward cultural experiences to find shared comfort, community, and growth. Symbols and traditions are reconsidered and reinvigorated by the context of our troubled times. And there is perhaps no symbol more enduringly vivacious, beautifully somber, and universally beloved than the ubiquitous, sublime flower.

The flower persists throughout art history. It figures prominently across memento mori still lifes; huaniao hua bird-and-flower motifs; the intricate patterning of Mbuti bark cloths; the tendrils and palmettes of Islamic miniatures. Botanical symbolism spans libertine excess, Dionesian glut, and delicate innocence; it evokes vanity, fertility, and the mortal coil. Yet most essentially for the present day, the tending and gifting of flowers is steeped in cultural practice. As balms of solace and support during times of remembrance and growth, blooms connote the sharing of emotion, and are given in sympathy, love, joy, or appreciation. The energizing fluidity of Marina Adams’ New Morning; the commemoration of eternal struggle in Jennifer Packer’s Say Her Name; the earnest beauty of Hilary Pecis’ Spring Blooms; the soulful well of Soumya Netrabile’s The Unbearable Sadness. Flowers are feelings made visual, considered and depicted as expressions of reflection and care. (Nothing but) Flowers seeks to illuminate the capacity of the humble botanical motif to capture sorrow, stimulate rehabilitation, and guide us through periods of mourning, celebration, and rebirth.

“Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose,” Gertrude Stein famously wrote in 1913. The meaning most often attributed to this now-ubiquitous idiom is that a thing is identical with itself, as in the logical law of identity. Stein’s rose, however, refers to an empty signifier. She later explained that, “when the language was new, as it was with Chaucer and Homer, the poet could use the name of the thing and the thing was really there,” but over time, each successive representation loses its original referent. The artworks comprising (Nothing but) Flowers demonstrate this problem of universals. The same flower is copied and reconstituted across time. Each appropriation is an entirely new simulation of the last. “At stake here is clearly not the divination of the secret meaning of flowers,” as Bataille writes. “But nothing contributes more strongly to the peace in one’s heart and to the lifting of one’s spirits, as well as to one’s loftier notions of justice and rectitude, than the spectacle of fields and forests, along with the tiniest parts of the plant.”

The installation presents a range of botanical imagery; abstracted, representational, pensive, airy. Blooms and vegetation appear across picture planes, occasionally as props rather than primary subjects. Some buds are worn away by a process of painterly attrition; others are impossibly precise and well-tended. Pansies inhabit the works of Ann Craven and Joe Brainard, while lovelorn roses bloom and burst across the canvases of Karen Kilimnik and Zenzaburo Kojima. Each arrangement is alive with personality: their biodiverse botanical subjects offer ciphers for people, places, and sentiments. In some cases, the same flower is copied and reconstituted across time: the iconic hibiscus blossoms are appropriated throughout history in the work of Andy Warhol, Elaine Sturtevant, and Richard Pettibone, each version reinvigorating the motif and endowing it with new growth.

The exhibition will be accompanied by a comprehensive catalogue inspired by Shozo Sato’s 1966 classic, The Art of Arranging Flowers: A Complete Guide to Japanese Ikebana, and will feature several newly commissioned essays, including contributions from Hilton Als, Helen Molesworth, and David Rimanelli.

(Nothing but) Flowers will be on display at the gallery, and virtually, on the Karma website.