Hedonism, escapism, exoticism – across continents, religions and cultures, no other motif conveys these associations more convincingly than the palm tree. The group exhibition “Paradise is Now. Palm Trees in Art” examines the existence of a modern paradise and delves into the complex iconographic spectrum of a prominent floral symbol. What is behind the popularity of this emblem and what layers of meaning and contradictions are revealed in the process of artistic engagement?
Omnipresent in advertising and social media, the image of the tropical plant conjures up associations of luxury, glamour, jet setting and sunshine. In post-war Europe an expression of modest southern wanderlust, since then the palm has matured in global, secular popular culture to become the universal sign of modern paradises. Especially in the United States, this symbol has become the emblem of the good life and many artists, especially those working in LA, such as John Baldessari, David Hockney and Ed Ruscha, have made it the focus of their visual language.
Marcel Broodthaers considers the palm tree from a European perspective that was often suspicious of hedonism and a life of leisure. He portrays the palm tree as a potted and domesticated decorative element. In his expansive installation, Broodthaers engages critically with social institutions: he exposes the palm tree as an imperialist symbol of power of a bygone era. The palm tree of Sigmar Polke embodies the petty-bourgeois needs of post-war Germans and presents the psychological and moral decay of a society drifting towards superficiality and consumption.
In their site-specific installation, Yutaka Sone and Rirkrit Tiravanija cooperate to take up Broodthaers’ ideas and extend them to aspects of the global consumer goods industry. Humankind and the force of nature are visualized in Rodney Graham’s video work “Vexation Island” in the figures of a coconut tree and a shipwrecked man. Simon Speiser transports palm trees into virtual reality and evokes the increasing alienation of man from nature against the background of technological progress. Alicja Kwade addresses the concomitant mass domestication of tropical plants. She defies the natural texture of the material and its transience by electroplating and thereby immortalising her old houseplants.
And if we leave the self-contained world of the gallery and perhaps stroll to a nearby department store or sit in a café or cross a square where there is a potted palm tree or two, then we will henceforth perceive each of these trees with a new appreciation of its deeper meaning and far-flung relationships. Norman Rosenthal
“Paradise is Now. Palm Trees in Art.” brings together over 50 works from painting, sculpture, photography, video and virtual reality. Works by Marcel Broodthaers and David Hockney as well as works of the youngest generation of artists such as Bruno V. Roels can be seen for the first time in Berlin.
The exhibition will be accompanied by a comprehensive catalogue in German (160 pages with around 100 colour plates, Hatje Cantz Verlag, € 30.00). It contains contributions by Bret Easton Ellis, Robert Grunenberg, Norman Rosenthal and Leif Randt.
About the curator:
The Berlin-based art historian Robert Grunenberg studied art history in Frankfurt and London. Following positions as a curator at MoMA PS1 in New York and an author at Springer Verlag in Berlin, Grunenberg is now working on his own exhibition space in Marburger Str. 3 in Charlottenburg, Berlin, which will open at the Gallery Weekend Berlin 2018. The exhibition program of Robert Grunenberg Berlin focuses on thematic group exhibitions that bring together the fields of art, fashion and design.