Welcome to the flowers: Rebecca Louis Law’s “Community” at Toledo Museum of Art invites us in

I managed to catch the immersive installation filling the exhibition space with 520,000 flowers and plant elements strung up with the thinnest copper wire this January on a day trip to this city just south of Detroit.

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I kicked off my “art weekender” goal for 2019 with a day trip to the Toledo Museum of Art (TMA) to catch Rebecca Louise Law’s “Community” before it closed. It was, beyond a doubt, worth the drive. My museum-loving friend Elizabeth Rogers Drouillard picked me up before the sun rose so we could drive across Michigan to get to the TMA right as it opened, hoping to beat the crowds in Law’s exhibition so we could experience it with a bit more quiet. Well, despite the reverence and awe that her work creates, even at the opening there were plenty of people oohing and ahh-ing right along with us, from an elderly Asian couple taking adorable photos of each other to little girls holding hands and looking up—all of us experiencing a different art experience than any of us had taken in before. 

“Community” filled the special exhibitions space with flowers, floor to very high ceilings, all strung from above with thin copper wire. There were dried flowers from Law’s own UK home accompanying thousands of flowers, leaves, and other plant material sourced right in Toledo. There were 140 different species of flowers and plants, totaling 520,000 pieces strung up on 520,000 feet of copper wire by Law, her two assistants, two TMA interns, and volunteers putting in 1,650 hours in the 17 days it took to install the exhibition. Though everything was very much a dried plant by the time we experienced it, we were surprised at how colorful many of the plants still were. There were pinks and blues, but plenty of browns and neutrals, including grasses and many “weeds” elevated to show off their beauty and near-seussical qualities. 

Perhaps just as magical as the exhibit itself is how we were welcomed into it.

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 “Welcome to the flowers,” said TMA guard Willis to each new person coming through the doors. It was a great community-welcome start to the awe-struck feeling inside, as we wandered through sometimes-narrow pathways of thousands upon thousands of flowers. 

The strings of flowers form little rooms and hallways between them, creating areas where groups naturally gather, in these intimate, close spaces that also feel very open and expansive thanks to the views between the strands all the way to the flower-shadow-cast walls. 

The installation is wildly instagrammable (just take a peek at #toledomuseumofart to get an idea) but I struggled to take a photo that felt like it captured the experience and the beauty. I was captivated, impressed, and spent a full hour just wandering, watching others interact with the work, and thinking about how we choose to create our own spaces. Do we fill them with beauty? Do we recognize the simple things around us and see their potential?

Somehow, Law has created an experience that feels at the same time vast and intimate. It’s sacred and common; we’re surrounded by nature and high art. Law took pieces of plants and elevated them into a sacred experience that’s absolutely approachable, emphasized by our new friend Willis’ welcome to art aficianados and little girls alike:

 “Welcome to the flowers.”

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Though Rebecca Louis Law’s work is no longer available at the TMA, I highly recommend a visit to the museum for its own collection — and the architecture of the building itself — and am told they regularly have stellar temporary exhibitions to visit. I’ve written about my visit to the rest of the TMA permanent collection and other experiences in Toledo on my day trip here. You can also follow Law to see where you can find her next on Instagram or via her website here

 

All photos, missed attempts at capturing Law’s stunning work, credit me.