(Jennifer Angus, Floriography)

By Jeff Maisey

Flower lovers will no doubt rejoice when experiencing Orchids: Attraction & Deception, the second temporary exhibition presented by the Barry Art Museum at Old Dominion University. 

“The work included in this exhibition ranges widely, fitting for an exploration of one of the largest and most diverse plant groups on the planet,” explained Charlotte Potter Kasic, the museum’s interim director and manager of education and engagement. “From pure botanical fascination to climate change, from historical model-making to collecting and colonization, 10 artists approach the orchid from very different angles.”

To Kasic’s point, orchids or Orchidaceae are an enormous species of some 28,000 plant varieties found almost everywhere in the world. Depending on the species, orchids are used for enjoyment as food, perfumery, decor, and horticulture. And in the case of this exhibition — art.

Orchids: Attraction & Deception is designed to take the viewer on a journey beginning with a historical account of scientific botanical illustrations created for books to document every fine detail of each plant. 

The title of the exhibition centers around the idea of orchids both attracting pollinators and deceiving them. 

“Sometimes they (the orchid) might look like a bee,” said Kasic. “Then, for instance, with the Bucket Orchid the pollinator gets stuck inside of it and it closes like a Venus Fly Trap, holding it hostage for 30 minutes and then releasing it so it can go off to other flowers.”  

The largest piece in this exhibition is an installation work titled Floriography from mixed media artist Jennifer Angus, a professor at the University of Wisconsin. The work encompasses an entire wall. The wall itself is painted red and serves as a background. Various dried and fabric orchids, glass domes, dried insects, and pins are used as well as porcelain hands and flowery paper cutouts are utilized to give the appearance of a three-dimensional Victorian-era wallpaper. Everything is perfectly symmetrical — a meticulous effort for sure. 

Arguably the most impressive element of the exhibition is the intriguing Orchid Bouquet Cluster from glass artist Paul Stankard. If you’ve ever been to a curiosity shop in Europe you’ve no doubt seen a taxidermied bat or small creature forever suspended within a glass ball used as a paperweight. Stankard has managed a more delicate feat in preserving a miniature orchid bouquet. A magnifying glass gives the viewer a more detailed look at the complexity of the tedious floral arrangement.  But wait — these are not real flowers but glass blown. Until you look closely your eyes — and the exhibited work — have deceived you. 

To impress you all the more is a short video presentation demonstrating the technique used by Stankard.  Absolutely brilliant.

Also of note in this show is an interpretive work by Australian artist Calista Lyon who, based on an 1878 lithograph of a dissected Crimson Spider Orchid, created clay earthenware “sculptures” of each individual part of the orchid and used colorful acrylic paint, dog and human hairs to make each appear almost as a character for an animated, cartoonish Saturday morning show rivaling “Sponge Bob Square Pants” or even the Blue Meanies of The Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine” fame.  Whether that was her intention or not, I cannot say, but a little playful imagination really brings this work to life. 

Don’t be deceived, Orchids is a real attraction. 


Orchids: Attraction & Deception

Through August 1

Barry Art Museum at ODU