There is so much art being made these days that the opportunities for thematic exhibitions are near endless. The exhibition Botanischer Wahnsinn, at the Kröller-Müller Museum presents a selection of works by artists who examine the world of plants in a multiplicity of ways. The exhibition derives its title from a photo of Joseph Beuys in which he can be seen searching, in vain, for a Japanese dwarf rhododendron near Halifax, Canada, where it is said to grow. Throughout his career Beuys showed a keen interest in the world of plants, their symbolism and their medicinal and regenerative properties. In 1982, on the occasion of documenta 7, he famously proposed to plant 7000 oaks throughout the city of Kassel.
The exhibition is divided into into five sections: Scientific plants (process and taxonomy), Ethnobotany (plants for human use, mystical plants and witchcraft), Ideological plants (plants in political, postcolonial an ecofeminist debate), Weeds (good and bad plants), Regeneration and ‘green remediation’ (cleaning contaminated soil with the help of plants).
Botanischer Wahnsinn is a fascinating, intellectually demanding exhibition. If only there were more such exhibitions! The curator, Roel Arkesteijn, has brought together an interesting collection of works by artists, most of whom I had never heard of. I liked the installations by Lili Fischer, Candice Lin, Mark Dion and Otobong Nkanga and the plant inventory “eschanauer journal” (2002) by herman de vries.
Unfortunately there is no exhibition catalogue, because I would have loved to study the intricate drawings by Gemma Anderson in detail. Anderson has developed a comparative, drawing based method of enquiry into the shared forms of animal, mineral and vegetable morphologies. Her work reminded me of the book On Growth and Form (1917) by the Scottish biologist and mathematician D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson.
Botanischer Wahnsinn is at the Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo, the Netherlands until 30 October 2022.