Each year, as spring descends upon Massachusetts and the cherry trees burst into blossom, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston brings a touch of flora inside the museum, too. The 2019 Art in Bloom event brightened up the MFA from April 27 to April 29 — and during the weekend-long flower show, the museum paired works of art with floral arrangements in what one museum patron called “a rite of spring.”
Art in Bloom begins each year in February, when the MFA assigns 50 different works of art to 50 local garden clubs. After each club received their subject, they had several months to create a matching floral design. The selected topics are wide-ranging: The clubs crafted bouquets to match furniture, sculptures, portraits, and glassware. To increase variety, no one piece of art can be repeated within five years.
“We want to keep it interesting,” Art in Bloom Chair Connie Page said. “We even know what we’ve assigned the garden clubs. If they’re returning clubs, we try to mix it up for them as well.”
The Art in Bloom event began in 1976 to increase foot traffic in the museum, an initiative that has since proven successful. In addition to the floral designs spread throughout the museum, the 2019 Art in Bloom also featured a marketplace with local vendors and a special cafe. On Saturday and Sunday, Metropolitan Museum of Art florist Remco van Vliet offered sold-out workshops and a demonstration on floral design.
On the rainy Friday before the formal programming began, however, museum patrons crowded the MFA just to see the flowers. They saw big designs and small designs; designs that matched their subject’s color and designs that matched its shape; designs with common bouquet flowers and designs with rare or far-reaching flora. A Claude Monet portrait of his wife was paired with leafy fronds that mimicked the arc of her skirt. A glass piece titled “Endlessly Repeating Twentieth Century Modernism” was coupled with translucent white flowers that repeated in a mirror-like pattern.
Next to a Pierre-Auguste Renoir portrait matched with a tangle of roses and vines, two long-time museum patrons said that they appreciated the museum’s care in combining flora with oil paintings or woodwork.
“They always take you into all kinds of different galleries, so you see things you might not have seen before,” MFA member Sally Collier said. “It’s a lovely thing to do on a gloomy April day.”
Her friend Chris Creelman agreed. “This is maybe our second or third year where we’ve met,” she said. “We live on opposite sides of the city and we meet here, so it’s a friendship thing as well.”
Page said that the engagement with artwork that Collier and Creelman mentioned is exactly what she wants from Art in Bloom.
“It was started kind of as an effort to increase attendance at the museum, and to get people into areas of the museum that they would not normally have gotten into,” she added. “So we always try to place these arrangements or choose these objects in all parts of the museum.”
Just as Page finished speaking, a tour group walked by, speaking animatedly about a set of red floral arrangements in the museum’s Art of the Ancient World collection. “Do you think the plural of ‘sarcophagus’ is ‘sarcophagi’?” a girl asked the group at large. One of her tourmates smiled and shrugged. Already, the tour was moving on to the next genre, the next region, the next piece of art — and the next flower.
— Staff writer Iris M. Lewis can be reached at email@example.com.