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Selby Gardens Shows Mapplethorpe and Smith in Bold New Light

Experience the art of two 20th-century icons for the first time ever in a botanical garden setting.

Presented by Marie Selby Botanical Gardens February 7, 2022

Norman Seeff, Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe IV. New York City, 1969.

Marie Selby Botanical Gardens’ sixth annual Jean & Alfred Goldstein Exhibition once again pairs high art and horticulture in a surprisingly natural way.

Robert Mapplethorpe and Patti Smith: Flowers, Poetry, and Light displays and interprets the work of two iconic contemporary artists (and creative soul mates) for the first time ever in a botanical garden setting. The exhibition runs from February 13 through June 26 at Selby Gardens’ Downtown Sarasota campus.

Mapplethorpe, arguably the foremost photographer of the late 20th century, is best known for his black-and-white photos consisting of portraits, nudes, and still lifes. Unbeknownst to some, a large body of his portfolio showcases flowers. (He joked they were easier to work with than human models!) Mapplethorpe made floral still life a significant genre, heightening the status of photography as an art form in the process.

Robert Mapplethorpe, Irises, 1987. Photogravure. 45 x 38-1/8 in.

Smith, meanwhile, is a multihyphenate artist and punk-rock goddess who has won a National Book Award and been inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. She began her artistic journey hand-in-hand with Mapplethorpe, as his lover, muse, and frequent portrait subject. He encouraged her writing and music, while she inspired and described his photography like no one else. They remained the fondest of friends until Mapplethorpe’s passing in 1989.

A Gardens-wide experience

The new exhibition at Selby Gardens features six original Mapplethorpe prints on loan from the University of South Florida’s Graphicstudio in Tampa, where the artist created them. The prints are showcased in the transformed galleries of the Gardens’ Museum of Botany & the Arts. The museum displays also include archival photos of the two artists and select lyrics and poetry of Smith.

As with previous Goldstein Exhibitions, the art spreads beyond the museum galleries. Selby Gardens’ horticulture team collaborated with its museum staff to create a unique, immersive, multisensory experience throughout the 15-acre Downtown Sarasota campus.

Conceptual Mock-Up of Horticultural Installations, 2021.

The Tropical Conservatory evokes a photographer’s studio and gallery, with Selby Gardens’ famous air plants suspended in floating frames. Smith’s debut album, Horses, provides the soundtrack. Along the Gardens’ walkways, visitors will encounter stunning horticultural vignettes inspired by the artists that ingeniously employ elements of their work. Audio of Smith’s music and reading can be heard in different locations. An eight-panel poetry walk features excerpts from her writing about Mapplethorpe.

More floral firsts

Selby Gardens’ Goldstein Exhibition Series is the cornerstone of its innovative model as The Living Museum®, part of an exciting schedule of rotating exhibitions that feature dynamic museum and horticultural displays. Flowers, Poetry, and Light marks the first time Selby Gardens has featured a contemporary photographer and a living artist in the series.

Backdrop in Tropical Conservatory. Photo Credit Cliff Roles

“I felt strongly that this work should be presented in a botanical garden setting—because it had never been done before,” said President & CEO Jennifer Rominiecki. “Our gardens and floral displays set the stage for a unique cultural encounter and exchange with two of the most iconic artists of our time.”

Foliage Gallery in Tropical Conservatory. Photo Credit Cliff Roles

To complement the exhibition, Selby Gardens will offer an array of special events, workshops, classes, and talks to deepen understanding of the artists, their work, and their relationship with nature. The Selby House Café and a temporary Michael’s on East food truck will even feature a creatively tasty menu inspired by Mapplethorpe’s and Smith’s formative “starving artist” years in New York City.

For more on Robert Mapplethorpe and Patti Smith: Flowers, Poetry, and Light, go to selby.org.

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