Cacti & Palms @ Ordovas and Hauser & Wirth

Two galleries that stand opposite each other at one end of Savile Row have both sprouted gardens. Amongst the pop prints of Andy Warhol at Ordovas, a series of plastic cacti have grown across the floors, that spread across the gallery below glamourous silk-screen prints of lipsticks, cigarettes and Marilyn Monroe. Not so far in the distance, more vegetation can be seen inside an abnormally green Hauser & Wirth on the other side of the road through the windows, having planted a palm court in its Mayfair gallery space.

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Marilyn, Flowers, Lips, Gun, Mirror, Cactus at Ordovas

While Ordovas has brought the heat of the Wild West to London, Hauser & Wirth have presented the public with a winter garden. Un Jardin d’Hiver presents Marcel Broodthaers’ seminal 1974 installation of a 19th-century inspired museum display to a British audience. Amongst wooden and glass cases are scientific pen and ink drawings of fauna and flora that are displayed amongst leafy, green shrubs and wooden foldable chairs. All of this looks as though it has been transported from several decades in the past into the twenty-first century, the only component in the display that looks just that little bit modern, is a television screen inserted at one end of the gallery. The somewhat old-fashioned monitor displays a black and white image that projects what can be seen immediately in-front of it onto its screen. Seated above the television is a small camera, much like a web-cam, it displays the faces of those who come near to it onto the monitor. As the viewer gets closer to the camera, they mirror the drawings of insects and animals on the gallery walls, becoming monotone illustrations themselves, mimicking the art surrounding the digital screen.

‘Un Jardin d’Hiver is like an oasis in the desert.’ These words can be read across one wall at Hauser & Wirth. While probably not deliberate, this statement connects almost directly with what is on display in the neighbouring gallery across the street. On the surface, Ordovas’s Marilyn, Flowers, Lips, Gun, Mirror, Cactus conveys more desert heat than the dark shrubs that can be cultivated at Hauser & Wirth. Nestled amongst bright green specially commissioned Gufram cacti are paintings by Roy Lictenstein, Any Warhol and Tom Wesselman. The desert mentioned on the walls at Hauser & Wirth is merely metres away from its lush oasis, with the cacti across the way providing a brilliant source of comparison for the leaves that have sprouted less than a mile into the distance.

Broodthaers was likened to a ‘sceneographer’ – a creator of theatrical compositions, which he did using domestic objects. In his winter garden, he did this using plants, and perhaps the curators at Ordovas, by the same logic, can also be counted as sceneographers too, although the cacti here are a little larger than your usual house plants. That said, what makes both exhibitions interesting is not the “artworks” on display, but the mode in which they have been exhibited. Despite the walls of Ordovas being embellished with the work of some of the most famous American artists throughout history, they almost blend into the background when met face to face with a few plastic figurines. It is almost as though the very absurdity of these oversized objects have deemed the paintings non-existent. And, whether intentional or not, the curation at Ordovas plays into the conceptual theories behind Broodthaers’ method of display. The Belgian artist was interested in the status of art as a commodity and the impact on the museum on artistic reception. By subverting what we would normally expect to see in a gallery space with huge plants, and in the case of the winter garden, old-fashioned display cases, he asks his audience about their preconceptions, and challenges the way the artwork is received. Similarly, by overpopulating the floor space at Ordovas with over-enlarged plants, the viewers expected experience of a bare gallery floor is subverted.

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Marilyn, Flowers, Lips, Gun, Mirror, Cactus at Ordovas

There is another layer of intrigue in Broodthaers work, which comes in the form of a comment on the colonization of art. All of the subjects that appear across the framed images concern categories of exotic animals that reflect the interests of early collectors who amassed a variety of objects of curiosity for their cabinets and Wunderkammer. While this message does not transcend over to Ordovas, it is interesting to contrast the seemingly old-fashioned display at Hauser & Wirth, to the modern, almost tongue-in-cheek display that is taking place opposite. Nevertheless, Broodthaers interest in the commodification of art, embodies the very ethos of the pop art movement projected onto the walls at Ordovas through the work of Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein.

While the two Savile Row exhibitions are not connected, by very virtue of being situated beside each other, they make for interesting viewing into how we display and understand art in the twenty-first century. At first appearance, it may look as though both galleries are making the most of the fashion for cacti and palm trees within fashion and popular culture, but beneath surface level, together their strength is not in the artistic contents of their display, but in the way that it has been exhibited: inadvertently commenting on the theoretical exhibition of art.

Marilyn, Flowers, Lips, Gun, Mirror, Cactus is on display at Ordovas until 16 December

Un Jardin d’Hiver is on display at Hauser & Wirth until 18 November

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Lizzy Vartanian Collier is a London-based writer with a special interest in contemporary Middle Eastern Art. She has a BA in Art History and an MA in Contemporary Art and Art Theory of Asia and Africa from the School of Oriental and African Studies. She runs the Gallery Girl blog and has written for After Nyne, Arteviste, Canvas Magazine, Harper's Bazaar Arabia, Ibraaz, Jdeed Magazine, ReOrient and Suitcase Magazine. Lizzy is also curator of Arab Women Artists Now - AWAN 2018 (London).

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