From the refined to the revolutionary, find meaning in every bloom.
During the Summer of Love, flowers became powerful symbols of peace, a concept plucked from Buddhist art. More than merely decorative, floral imagery has helped convey ideas from the refined to the revolutionary for thousands of years.
In Asian art, flowers speak a language all their own. Where a lotus blooms, a rosebud is clasped, or cherry blossoms flutter to the ground, a story is told — if you know how to read it.
This summer, uncover the hidden meanings of flowers in Asian art. Delve into the symbolism of six significant blooms: the lotus, plum blossom, cherry blossom, chrysanthemum, tulip, and rose. The enduring importance of these flowers is shared through gloriously gilded screens, sleek lacquers, rare porcelains, striking sculptures, pop art, and sensory-igniting, participatory contemporary installations that speak to today’s issues, from climate change to social activism.
Much art of the past fifty years has been envisioned not as an aesthetically pleasing rendering of the natural world but as a platform for inquiry and an investigation of the difficult and the ugly. How do flowers fit into this? The contemporary works in Flower Power demonstrate the flexibility of floral images to convey both timely and timeless themes. The flowers in these works offer decorative appeal and symbolic values, as well as ways of thinking about a wide range of topics—the natural environment in which we live, the communities we build, and the commodities we buy. Flowers in contemporary art are connected to particular cultural legacies but are also open to new interpretations, moored to the past yet provoking questions about our future.
Meet the Artists
Ayomi Yoshida is a fourth-generation printmaker from Japan. She works with a team of volunteers for several weeks to install thousands of woodblock-printed cherry blossoms on two-dimensional images of tree branches.
Born in Taiwan, American artist Lee Mingwei was inspired by Lewis Hyde’s book The Gift, which explores the value of creativity and the idea of art as a gift rather than a commodity—a central theme in Lee’s work. In his piece The Moving Garden, Lee does not use renderings or representations but actual fresh-cut flowers.
Japanese artist Takashi Murakami incorporates flowers into many of his artworks. The two silkscreen prints in Flower Power feature his most common floral motif: cartoonish, smiling, polychrome daisies. These flowers are simultaneously decorative symbols of cuteness, peace, and happiness and something more complex—examples of successful branding. Their overabundance of saccharine grinning begs the question of what sinister elements lurk just below the surface in art and life.
teamLab is a digital collective of programmers, designers and animator. They use time-based animation to allow the subject matter to grow and flower for the viewers in a way that static art cannot, allowing for an innovative addition to a familiar practice.
San Francisco in the 1960s is a significant place and time for artist Megan Wilson. Her parents lived in the city during that period, and their experiences and the era’s counterculture legacy helped define the trajectory of her creative and sociopolitical paths.
Ikebana at the Museum
Ikebana is practiced today in places beyond Japan’s borders. In fact, the Asian Art Museum has a Flower Committee comprising a group of dedicated volunteers—practicing the Sogetsu style of ikebana—who create the dynamic floral arrangements that you see throughout the museum every week. This video features a day in the life of one of the committee teams (featuring Naoko Fujimura and Ricardo Ramirez) as it brings the ancient art of ikebana to the twenty-first century.
Flower Power is organized by the Asian Art Museum. Presentation is made possible with the generous support of Doris Shoong Lee and Theodore Bo Lee, The Akiko Yamazaki and Jerry Yang Fund for Excellence in Exhibitions and Presentations, Phoebe Cowles, Warren Felson and Lucy Sun, Cathy and Howard Moreland, and an anonymous donor.
Media sponsors: Wall Street Journal, NBC Bay Area, KQED.