Museum brings sweet smell of flowers to art world

An art exhibit that will last only as long as its featured flowers remain fresh--about a week--opens next Sunday at the Loyola University Art Museum.

It consists of paintings, photographs and drawings created by 18 Chicago area artists which are paired with actual flower arrangements made by local floral designers.

The brevity of the life of the flower fits well with the spiritual theme behind the exhibit.

The museum, open since last October, has as its central theme "art illuminating the spirit," focusing on the spiritual rather than the religious dimension behind art and creativity.

"Religion has to do with a specific faith and body of rituals. The spiritual is more philosophic," said museum director Pamela Ambrose.

Ambrose believes that all art inspires people to look deep within themselves and ask fundamental questions, such as how the spirit is elevated, the brevity of life and why we are here.

"Looking at art, [especially] the painting of the natural world, there is a tendency to want to look for affirmation for our being," Ambrose said.

"Late Cloud: Blue Vanda," a watercolor painting by Christina Haglid, will be featured at the exhibit. It depicts an exotic plant drifting in a boat on open water. "Is this flower searching for land ? for a home?" Ambrose asks.

Victor Skrebneski, a Chicago-based fashion photographer famous for taking shots of Hollywood celebrities, will also have two photographs on display. One is one inspired by the Tuleries gardens in Paris. Another features a runway model wearing a dress with big, splotchy flowers.

Flowers and the natural world have also been historically connected to religion.

"The symbolism and mythology behind flowers is connected to religion, [particularly] Christianity," Ambrose said.

Ambrose says the lily and the rose, for example, are symbolic of the Virgin Mary.

Ambrose says a viewer can be looking at a bouquet of flowers and then say, "wait, this is surreal, this is ominous. I call it 'still-life on the edge.'"

Hours for the show, which ends Friday, March 17, are 10 8 p.m. on Tuesday, and 10 to 5 p.m. on the rest of the days. The museum, at 820 N. Michigan Ave., is closed on Mondays.