Art Alive 2015 - San Diego Museum of Art Rotunda Preview with Designer René van Rems

‘Art Alive’ 2015: A Rotunda Preview With Designer René van Rems

Photos by Ryan Benoit

What happens when you get flowers and artists (and admirers of both) into a room, add tequila and stir?

Art Alive, of course. This weekend marks the 34th anniversary of San Diego Museum of Art’s beloved three-day event, in which designers create floral interpretations of works in the permanent collection. Remember last year’s craspedia/orchid/driftwood treatment of Dali? The calla lilies and tulips that channeled Alice Neel? We can’t wait to see what the hundred-plus floral artists will create at the upcoming Art Alive, happening this Friday, April 24 through Sunday April 26. It’s also the 100th anniversary of the museum’s Balboa Park home.

Check out the lineup of events here. They include the Bloom Bash on Friday night (or as we like to call it, “Flower Prom”; check out our recaps of 2014 and 2013), jewelry trunk shows, lectures, classes and kids’ activities like a museum-wide “flower hunt” on Saturday and Sunday. And of course, the floral design/artwork pairings will be on display throughout.

Art Alive 2015 - San Diego Museum of Art Rotunda Preview with Designer René van Rems

The floral-filled rotunda in progress, by René van Rems.

The museum’s blossomy rotunda design is another hotly anticipated part of the show. Dutch-born, North County-based designer René van Rems has returned for his seventh year to turn the museum’s rotunda into a wonderland, this time inspired by “the look and feel” of 1915.

How does that translate into plant form? Yesterday we stopped by to see the rotunda in progress for a preview, and chatted by email about his vision and the flowers he’s chosen to tell a grand story.

Art Alive 2015 - San Diego Museum of Art Rotunda Preview with Designer René van Rems

This is René van Rems’s seventh year designing the SDMA rotunda for Art Alive. Every flower in his design is California grown.

What is the inspiration for the rotunda design this year?

Three things: classicism, symmetry, and turn of the century English design.

I was classically trained in Europe with six years of schooling and apprenticeships. So when a member of the Board of Directors asked me to create the 2015 Rotunda, I knew that I was going back to 1915—to the elegance, abundance and classicism. Most artists are inspired by the instrument. In a similar way, I am interested in what flowers can do when they are combined right. It’s about that wow factor when the elements are put together in the right way.

What are some of the plants you will be using?

Hybrid delphiniums, larkspur (garden flowers), Old World carnations, roses, white lace, cherry blossoms, butterfly orchids, hydrangeas, and stephanotis and gardenias from the 1920s.

All of the flowers are California grown, and everything is white. It’s kind of like how interior designers decorate in all white to really allow the texture and shapes to interact.

Art Alive 2015 - San Diego Museum of Art Rotunda Preview with Designer René van Rems

Art Alive 2015 - San Diego Museum of Art Rotunda Preview with Designer René van Rems

Art Alive 2015 - San Diego Museum of Art Rotunda Preview with Designer René van Rems

How would you describe your style of floral design?

Organic is big, especially when you have very naturalistic flowers. By organic I mean naturalistic, there is a flow to it. My style is very versatile and driven by the plants I use.

How will this design differ from your previous rotunda designs?

My designs are always dictated by the traffic, flow and details of the museum and the place. This design was very much influenced by the Centennial—by the context of 1915, and the look and feel of the time. There are lots of gardenias, and ribbons that would have been used back in the day. I also don’t often use props. Central to this year’s design are two giant peacocks and several giant pots that came from the Rose Parade. The scale of the 14-foot, flower-covered peacocks in the space really allow for that wow factor.

They also relate to the time, or to the feel of the English garden. English gardens had a lot of peacocks—or to everything new that was brought to Europe at that time.

Art Alive 2015 - San Diego Museum of Art Rotunda Preview with Designer René van Rems

René is repurposing the fountain as both a stand for potted rose bushes and a giant vase for cut flowers like delphinium and Old World carnations. The flora are going to need to hold up through Sunday; during our visit René said he tries to use potted plants where he can. (Of course, hydrating everything will be an ongoing undertaking for René and his 66 volunteers.) Any wilting flowers along the way will get swapped out for hardier material, like rose petals.

Art Alive 2015 - San Diego Museum of Art Rotunda Preview with Designer René van Rems

Anything we missed that you’d like to add?

I love to raise the awareness of what flowers can do for people. Most people look, but some people see. I love it when I get people to see. Or when they walk into the museum for the first time and are stopped in their tracks by what they see.

When you work with flowers and beautiful things, there is something really emotive about it. I feel that, and I want other people to feel that. And I think the 66 volunteers who came together feel that. They love it, they want to help, and they really are drinking the Kool-Aid. I think that sometimes we have lost that love of art in our community. I love sharing this — the camaraderie and the community are huge. They weren’t lying when they said it takes a village.

—TH


Getting excited? Here are a few scenes from Bloom Bashes of years past:

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Jolene De Hoog Harris of The Dutch Flower — floral interpretation of “The Young Shepherdess” by William-Adolphe Bouguereau.

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Diana Normandin, American Institute of Floral Designers — floral interpretation of ‘Navagraha’ by Unknown.

 

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