Rebecca Louise Law: Inspiring Awe in Toledo
Some exhibits beg the visitor to simply bathe in their glory, at least as a starting point, but also as an ongoing experience. They inspire a physical reaction of awe: you just want to stand in their presence and gaze, and take it in like the sun. The Cleveland Museum of Art and the Toledo Museum of Art each have one of those right now. You can see the reaction as visitors walk into the room. They stop in the midst of the work, and slowly turn, slack jawed or smiling, and enjoy being there.
I’m talking, of course, about the Valois Tapestries at the Cleveland Museum of Art, and Rebecca Louise Law’s installation of flowers,called Community, at the Toledo Museum of Art. In both of these cases a person can learn substantial background that informs the work, but no amount of knowledge can replace or approximate the experience of standing in the midst of it. In each case the experience results from a room full of labor-intensity, though it must be said the nature of the hand work is vastly different.
Based in London, artist Rebecca Louise Law’s medium is dried flowers, often suspended from copper wire. She has also presented them by filling the space between panes of glass, or under vitrines. There are prints, as well as a book, Life in Death, published by the Royal Botanic Gardens. She has made installations in museums and other settings around the world, from Athens, Greece to Melbourne, Australia, all over the United Kingdom, and of course, in Toledo.
To make Community, she mined her own supply of flowers gathered from past exhibits over the last ten years, and added to them flowers grown at a nursery in Toledo. There are more than half a million flowers, 10,000 grown locally, and they are suspended on hundreds of copper wires from a martix in the ceiling. The flower strands fill the room, floor to high ceiling, and visitors experience the installation by walking among them. There are paths, but no barriers, not even ribbons to corral visitors or keep them moving through a defined route. Photos are encouraged, of course. Visitation is at allotted times, but without time limits. People are free to stand, or wander, and simply marvel at the splendor.
Law commonly engages members of the community as volunteers to help string the flowers on wire, and has said that working on this scale would not be possible without that support. The interaction also connects the community to the work in a meaningful way. Community is her largest installation to date, filling the museum’s Canaday gallery, its main exhibition space.
The subject matter is straightforward: the beauty of life, but not simply that flowers are beautiful, or that a lot of them are more beautiful, and that walking into a room full flowers cascading from the ceiling like rain is a transportative experience. No, the message is also that life changes and passes, and returns to dust, and is beautiful all along that path, and that even in desperately clinging to it –as in the practice of drying flowers and keeping them as their colors change – we find beauty.
There’s a lot that could be said about engaging community, about local flora connecting to the world through art, and about people from Toledo sharing a bond with the world through art, but any person standing in the Canaday gallery can make those connections and viscerally experience all that. The exhibit is on view June 16 2018 through January 13, 2019. It is well worth the trip.