These flowers sat between powerful men as they signed agreements designed to influence the fate of the world.
Gagosian is pleased to present Taryn Simon’s first exhibition at the New York gallery. The sculptures—Simon’s first foray into the medium—previewed at the 56th Biennale di Venezia in 2015; this exhibition brings them together with large-scale, annotated photographs as a complete body of work for the first time.
The new series comprises twelve unique sculptures and thirty-six editioned photographs. The photographs—large, colorful, and spectacular, with a nod to Pop art, and custom-framed in mahogany to emulate the style of boardroom furniture—speak to the bombast of national and corporate symbolism; the sculptures—stylized concrete flower-presses containing delicate preserved floral specimens and their documentation—operate in a discrete and classified zone.
A storyteller whose grist is the instability of fact, Simon has produced such impactful, research-driven bodies of work as The Innocents (2002); An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar (2007); Contraband (2010); and A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters I–XVIII (2008–11); as well as the more whimsical The Picture Collection (2013) and Birds of the West Indies (2013–14). Simon takes empirical photography into the field of post-conceptual practice, with exacting attention to aesthetic and formal concerns.
For the new work, Simon’s investigations yielded twin points of departure: archival photographs of official signings; and George Sinclair’s nineteenth-century horticultural study containing actual dried grass specimens, an experiment in evolution and survival cited by Charles Darwin in his groundbreaking research.
In Paperwork and the Will of Capital, Simon examines accords, treaties, and decrees drafted to influence systems of governance and economics, from nuclear armament to oil deals and diamond trading. All involve the countries present at the 1944 United Nations Monetary and Financial Conference in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, which addressed the globalization of economics after World War II, leading to the establishment of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. In images of the signings of these documents, powerful men flank floral centerpieces designed to underscore the importance of the parties present. Simon’s photographs of the recreated centerpieces from these signings, together with their stories, underscore how the stagecraft of political and economic power is created, performed, marketed, and maintained.
Each of Simon’s recreations of these floral arrangements represents an “impossible bouquet”—a concept that emerged in Dutch still-life painting parallel to the country’s seventeenth-century economic boom, which ushered in the development of modern capitalism. Then, the impossible bouquet was an artificial fantasy of flowers that could never bloom naturally in the same season and geographic location. Now the fantasy is made possible—both in the original signings and in Simon’s photographs—by the global consumer market.
For the recreations, Simon worked with a botanist and from archival records to identify all the flowers. She imported more than four thousand specimens from the world’s largest flower auction in Aalsmeer, Netherlands, where twenty million flowers arrive and depart daily, bound for international retail destinations. She remade the floral arrangements from each signing, then photographed them against striking bicolored fields relating to the foregrounds and backgrounds in the historical images, pairing each arrangement with a description of the pertinent accord. For the sculptures, selected specimens from the thirty-six arrangements were dried, pressed, and sewn to archival herbarium paper; a complete set of the thirty-six botanical collages was then placed in each of the twelve concrete presses, along with the same number of photographs and narrative texts—sealed together in a race against time.
Paperwork and the Will of Capital addresses the instability of executive decision-making and the precarious nature of survival, as well as the reliability and endurance of records: the accords and their far-reaching effects, Simon’s photographs, the preserved botanical specimens in their concrete presses, and language itself. The photographic still lifes stand in contrast to the sculptural natures mortes: as time advances, so may these artifacts transform, revealing mutable versions of themselves.
A fully illustrated catalogue published by Hatje Cantz and Gagosian will include essays by Kate Fowle and Nicholas Kulish, botanical texts by Daniel Atha, and a short story by Hanan al-Shaykh.
From the Quarterly
Extended through May 19, 2018
Paperwork and the Will of Capital
February 27–May 19, 2018
Portraits and Surrogates
May 25–August 5, 2017
Extended through July 8, 2016
Paperwork and the Will of Capital
April 14–July 8, 2016
Birds of the West Indies
February 27–April 12, 2014