A Conservatory That Cultivates Creativity

Deborah Moore’s handblown glass
orchid menagerie (Winter 2012)

One of my favorite places in Columbus to see fine art over the past few years has been the Franklin Park Conservatory.  At first, this surprised me given the institution’s primary devotion to the exhibition of horticulture from around the world.

Franklin Park Conservatory nurtures plants and people. We promote environmental appreciation and ecological awareness for everyone. Our unique botanical collections provide lifelong learning opportunities in a friendly and accessible setting, which preserves tradition and provides a refuge for the soul.

Reviewing its mission statement, however, I realize one of the ways the organization helps draw visitors into the space, to foster their environmental appreciation and ecological awareness, is through relevant visual art installations.  Franklin Park understands and exemplifies the interdisciplinary value of art.

While I can’t find any history of this initiative online, the exhibition of art in the conservatory seems to have begun in 2004 with an installation of Dale Chihuly’s glassworks.  That show drew nearly 200 times the institution’s regular attendance.  Rather than return the work to the artist, the Friends of the Conservatory purchased nearly the entire exhibition–over 3,000 pieces–to the tune of $6+ million.  Frankly, I’m not very interested in most of the Chihuly work.  (I do love the overhead installations of conglomerates of small pieces of various shapes and sizes).  It’s the temporary exhibitions, by lesser known artists, that catch my attention and get me running to Facebook to tell my friends to head downtown.

The current show, Sacrifice + Bliss features the work of New York-based artist Aurora Robson.  In her work, Robson transforms debris extracted from the global waste stream into complex 3-dimensional assemblages.  Robson positions her viewer in the eye of the trash storm; a manmade storm of epic proportions that is destroying ecosystems and threatening our way of life.  If this sounds like a nightmare then Robson has achieved her artistic vision.  For while most of the works are visually stunning, it is also both an environmental wakeup call and reference to her own childhood nightmares of being overpowered by giant bursts of color flooding the backs of her eyelids.

While visiting the exhibition again this morning with my daughters, I was impressed when Rosa (11 years-old) turned to me and said something like, “she must hate to have so much art, since her goal is to see the world have less trash.”  I think she got the message.


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