By Margie M. Palmer
Imagine walking into a room that’s been completely transformed into one of the most breathtaking floral displays you could ever begin to imagine; everything is white and you can’t help but feel as if you’ve stepped into a space that is one part Downton Abbey and one part high-society English wedding.
That’s what you get if you attend this year’s 24th annual Art Alive exhibit at the San Diego Museum of Art in Balboa Park.
The first thing you will notice as you step into the museum’s rotunda is the sweet aroma that comes from the nearly 100,000 individually placed, California-grown stems. As your eyes wander to the center of the room and the centerpiece of the design, you will notice two, 14-foot peacocks that are made entirely out of white flowers.
René van Rems, the internationally known floral artist who designed this year’s rotunda display, said he estimates approximately 1,500 hours have been spent among volunteers and professionals to bring the exhibition to life.
What attendees can expect, he said, is to experience a genre of floral design that was seen in yesteryear but that you don’t see too much of today.
“With this year being the Balboa Park Centennial, we wanted to take things back to the floral culture that was seen during the early stages of California,” van Rems said. “This is the old craftsman days of large English floral arrangements, and the vases we’re using are scaled to the size of the museum entryway. We’re using these huge urns from the Pasadena Rose Parade that have been completely découpaged with leaves; it’s pretty spectacular.”
Everything will be reflective of 1915, he said, and the flowers and greenery will include everything from roses to gladiolas, to trumpet lilies and flowering herbs. Designers certified by the American Institute of Floral Designers and more than 40 students from the René Floral Training Center worked side by side to make the display a reality.
Years in the making
San Diego Museum of Art Special Events Manager Sarah Grossman said that each Art Alive is a multi-year process; planning for 2016 will start as soon as this year’s exhibit comes to a close.
Those who grew up on the East Coast can think of it as a miniature Philadelphia Flower Show; in San Diego, though, designers are not creating their own uniquely inspired displays. They instead chose one of the museum’s permanent pieces of artwork and are tasked with interpreting that through floral design. Some of the artists are longstanding, well-respected local designers that have been involved with the event from the beginning.
Newcomers are selected through an extensive vetting process.
“There are several rounds of instructions and we ask each potential artist to submit a sketch,” Grossman said. “From there we have our own internal art processes to make sure the display will be appropriate for the space.”
And while many will attend to enjoy the sights and scents of the show, others see it as an opportunity for philanthropy. Art Alive is the museum’s largest annual fundraiser, Grossman said, noting that this year’s event is expected to raise upward of $1 million. Funds raised will be used to help provide education, outreach programs and especial exhibitions throughout the year.
The official kick-off to the event, otherwise known as Bloom Bash, will begin on April 24 at 7 p.m.
“It’s a little flashy and a lot of fun. It’s really one big community party,” Grossman said. “Last year, to make the opening celebration more about art we introduced a contemporary artist to inspire the core. This year we’re working with graffiti artist Chor Boogie.”
Boogie, who will mingle art, flowers and graffiti into his display, said his inspiration for the piece came from the Bloom Bash itself.
“I’m definitely incorporating some of those floral arrangements within the composition of the artwork that will help create the ambiance of Bloom Bash, to give people the foundation of the style, which are based on modern hieroglyphics and love.”
He will also be doing a sculpture, he said, which will be one of the highlights of the event.
“This will be my first time doing something like that because I’m not really a sculpture artist,” he said, noting the piece will be made entirely out of spray cans, as spray paint is his medium. “It’s all nature and it is all love, and hopefully it brings some loving inspiration to people.”
This year’s Art Alive floral exhibition will be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on April 24 – 26. General admission is free for museum members, $20 for nonmembers and free for children ages 6 and under. Bloom Bash tickets are $200 for museum members and $250 for nonmembers. Visit sdmart.org for additional information.
—Margie M. Palmer is a San Diego-based freelance writer who has been racking up bylines in a myriad of news publications for the past 10 years. You can write to her at email@example.com.