Forms of Flora

The Seagrave Gallery is pleased to present an exhibition of floral photographs by four West Coast masters. As a supplement, a 1st-edition copy of Karl Blossfeldt's "Art Forms in Nature" provides historical context to the progression of formal abstraction on both sides of the Atlantic. The release of Blossfeldt's plant studies in 1929 coincides with the zenith of modernism and the famed exhibit Film und Foto, in which Edward Weston, Imogen Cunningham, and other West Coast photographers exhibited alongside Blossfeldt and other European modernists in Stuttgart, Germany. There is a kinship between these early European and American plant studies—sharp, clean lines and stark, distilled forms. Unlike Blossfeldt's sobering and immediate typologies, West Coast masters used creative composition and lighting to elevate their floral subjects into elixirs of light and substance.
    These Californian photographers reformulated innovations in abstraction within the lush landscapes of their native state. It seems necessary for these innovations to have emerged in New York's urban environment, where bold forms and man-made patterns would inevitably develop an eye concerned with abstract form. However, just as Paul Strand pioneered modernist photography in New York City, then elaborated his findings in the undeveloped forests of New England, American modernism moved from the urban East to the untamed West—from industry and skyscrapers to trees, leaves, flowers and stone.
    Among the highlights of this exhibition include Ansel Adams's "Leaves, Mills College, 1931", which is considered to be one of Adams's first—if not the first—modernist compositions, foreshadowing his later work in Group F/64. Another exemplary study is Wynn Bullock's "Tree Trunk, 1971", a foundational image of his late experimental period, and emblematic of his ability to communicate the nascent energy inherent to seemingly static matter.