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amo ergo sum

Flowers at the Fin de Siècle: Renate Bertlmann, Robert Lettner, Jimmy Wright, 1990-1998, Galerie Wonnerth-Dejaco, Wien


“I shamelessly appropriate everything, everything becomes material for me—even the perishable, the perished, the forbidden juices of life, pulsing.”[1] — Renate Bertlmann

This exhibition brings together the works of three artists who each turned to flowers as the twentieth century came to a close—Renate Bertlmann, Robert Lettner, and Jimmy Wright. In the 1990s, they took up subject matter widely assumed to be cliché, passé, feminine, decorative, pleasure-centric, and unintellectual. In Vienna (Bertlmann, Lettner) and New York (Wright), all three had previously been involved with different 1970s politics and subcultures—feminist, leftist, and gay liberationist, respectively—and they brought these concerns into their later work. Each appropriated and reclaimed the floral still life as a vehicle for staging a larger discussion about painting and power. They all decontextualized and denaturalized their blooms using various material strategies. In their hands, flowers became potent vessels for conversations about language and signification; femininity as excess; and mourning. If floral paintings have traditionally been seen as frivolous and lacking conceptual heft, these practices prove that the decorative is not without concept and that pleasure does not exclude intellect.

Credits: © Peter Mochi, Renate Bertlmann