Since 2002, when Simon debuted “The Innocents”—a research-intensive exploration of wrongful convictions in the U.S.—she has proved herself a master at siphoning weighty political and social quandaries into serial artworks. Other projects have catalogued the cultural influence of the James Bond franchise or amassed a photographic archive of objects seized from people and packages entering the U.S. For this project, flowers are the alluring proxies for political theater—and the flower market itself is a stand-in for the complexities of globalization and capitalism.
To recreate the ceremonial arrangements, Simon ordered some 4,000 flowers from a single source—Holland’s Aalsmeer Flower Auction, which is, as she points out, “the epicenter of the global flower market.” In a typical globalized trade loop, flowers are grown in countries around the world, shipped to and aggregated at Aalsmeer, then shipped again to their final destinations. Bouquets that gather blooms from Ecuador, Thailand, and the Netherlands end up in bodegas, or on the desks of politicians, the world over. For us, these medleys are the norm—but it hasn’t always been that way. Dubbed “impossible bouquets” and traced back to Dutch 17th-century painters, clusters of exotic flowers were the stuff of these artists’ dreams—and the subject of sought-after still lifes that would go on to establish the beginnings of the art market.
Simon made the cogent, time- and space-collapsing connection between the “impossible bouquet” and the pageantry of political gatherings, where sundry leaders and their motives are brought together and packaged in pretty flowers and fragile paperwork. Significantly, all of the floral arrangements view at Gagosian also represent impossible bouquets, “flowers that could never grow together, in nature, in the same place and at the same time,” Simon explains. “Or in my interpretation, that could never be grown in the place of the meeting, at the time of the meeting.”
She gestures towards a photo of a tangled mass of green leaves (a golden pothos plant grown in the U.S.) that sat in the room where, in Cairo in 2010, numerous countries gathered to draft an agreement requesting the return of cultural treasures that had been taken by colonial powers. Notably, “the U.K., France, Germany, and other countries holding most of the contested artifacts did not attend the conference,” Simon’s text accompanying the photo explains. “It’s like a Gordian knot,” she reflects, gazing at the plant. “In the context of that agreement, it feels like some strange poem to this idea of cultural heritage and what power does to one’s cultural heritage.”