t was a bit warmer yesterday than the day before.
Low desert winds whip past me with just the faintest hint of summer.
My eyes itch and there’s some strange tingle in the back of my throat.
Oh, look there’s a little wild flower so small and purple, a bit underdeveloped.
I should go outside and never go back in.
I think it might be spring. … Is it? Despite the new weather buffeting us with seemingly infinite winter winds in Southern Nevada, the developing buds on the (regrettably) male mulberry tree outside my window tell me something vernal this way comes.
In keeping with this impending fecundity, MGM Resorts’ curator Demecina Beehn’s In Bloom has unfurled its petals at the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art. The exhibition is a biome of world-class artworks pulled primarily from the Tia Collection of Santa Fe, New Mexico, and displayed like a perfect bouquet for public consumption.
A well-put-together group exhibition is, amongst other things, directive. In Bloom has the kind of intentionality that moves the body through the gallery space, leading it in a ritual dance that would have garnered Stravinsky’s approval. With the body (something that is given equal prominence to landscape in the exhibition) in mind, I will follow a clockwise path through several pieces and their interpolations. I will not be able to describe the majority of work in detail in the knowledge that our mutual time might be better spent in a meadow somewhere staring at the sky, or perusing In Bloom in person, which I strongly recommend.
“Rose,” (1977), a still life by Robert Mapplethorpe, marks the exhibition’s entry point, a gentle black and white image that plays with a flower and its shadow to captivating effect, like gray winter alluding to brilliant spring. The next three works—by painters B.J.O. Nordfeldt (“Still Life with Grapefruit”), Ralph Meyers (“Early Spring”), and Nicolai Fechin (“Lily and Shell”)—bring American impressionism through a southwest lens. Expressive still lifes trickle into landscape as buds develop into flowers. This gradient from monotone to vivid color primes the eye for what comes next.
In lieu of the expected Monet, one of the exhibition’s two Alex Katz works, “Homage to Monet 3,” gives us the requisite water lilies. This reductive take on a notable subject renders subtle contrast against the previous impressionistic offerings. The simplicity of form in “Homage to Monet 3” slides seamlessly into the adjacent “Color and Light” by Michelangelo Pistoletto. It’s an imposing work. Eight panels of jute fabric and reflective glass not only saturate the room with well, color and light, they make it relevant commentary on materiality and class as part of the Arte Povera movement when placed across from a gilded Dalí like “Alice in Wonderland.” The surrealist icon and fascist collaborator’s sculpture of Lewis Carroll’s beloved heroine manages to produce a feeling similar to prancing through a newly sprouted meadow in its figurative brilliance. The backsplash to this is a wall-size rendering of a Disney still from Lady and the Tramp, “Mother (Distant Town),” immaculately rendered by Dan Colen, whose enormous reproductions of liminal spaces from beloved children’s films express an eerie void.
“Garden of the Last Empress,” a work by massively under-sung abstract expressionist Regina Bogat flirts with the eye through pastel decadence. Paired with two works by Karla Black—”That Time” and “From Found a Soft”—we receive a pinhole look into an abstract spring garden. The wall to the right houses the most exhilarating work. Yinka Shonibare’s “Bling Painting” serves as a glittering indictment of colonialism. Like lush undergrowth, it holds together all the surrounding work piercing them with dialogue about their decadence. Its masterful curation and the subtle shifts in thinking each work lends to the other are refreshing and inspiring as a cool spring morning.
At this point in the walkthrough, I find myself overwhelmed. Though the BGFA is not museum-like in size, it is packing museum-size punch. The next exhibition space has many similar vibrant interpolations. Ai Weiwei’s “Bicycle Basket with Flowers” bristles up against Alex Katz’s “Jean on Horse” —the Chinese dissident’s porcelain ode to his years-long travel ban, given background by Katz’s apolitical depiction of aristocratic leisure.
There’s a dive into nature next and a place of unknowing leaping, through Rachel Kneebone’s “At the Edge of Dawn and Darkness” porcelain complementing Weiwei’s basket, but only in materiality. In aesthetic, the work plays more fluidly with Jiří Georg Dokoupil’s “Untitled #4,” a glowing blue field with amorphous markings that vanquish the notion of an artist’s hand. “Im Garten des Priapus” by Miron Schmückle puts a bonnet on this area of the exhibition with its eerie, biomorphic renderings, giving a primordial counterpoint to the rest of the works.
In final the adjacent space is the pièce de résistance—Nick Cave’s “Soundsuit 8:46.” Towering like the protective armor it is, “8:46” sings of springs both personal and political. The work is a direct commentary on the death of George Floyd and blossoms like the political unrest surrounding it. Cave’s work, floral and lush, cross-pollinates exquisitely with Martine Gutierrez’s Indigenous Woman series, which agitates with similar chromatic-saturated anarchy, refuting oppressive notions of gender and divinity. Shawn Huckins’ “Evening Glow at Lake Louise: Hey Siri, How Do I Leave the Planet?” supplies a shift in hue but not in tone. In these three works staged together, there is a histamine reaction to the violence of our era. At this point like a child rambling through lush meadows, I find myself exhausted and elated simultaneously.
I’ve rarely come upon an exhibition this engaging and complex. There are so many exceptional works that I’ve failed to mention here that you shouldn’t fail to see. In Bloom is as dense and complex as any ecosystem—stunning flowers of artistic prowess interconnected by sociocultural mycelium integrating uncanny visions and ideations that are beautiful to explore. Please stop and smell the flowers.
Cover photo: A detail of “Demons, Xochipilli ‘The Flower Prince,’ p.91” from the Indigenous Woman series by Martine Gutierrez
All photos courtesy of Jenks Imaging
In Bloom is on view at the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art inside the Bellagio casino on the Las Vegas Strip through Sept. 10. Tickets start at $20. Tickets and info here.