The Green Wall Art Fail.

You’d think an art museum would have some investment in supporting contemporary artists, especially as new art mediums become available, but apparently not the National Museum of London.  All summer, they have used the young science and highly expressive art medium of plants growing on a vertical structure to allow a few artistic minds to, in essence, color inside the lines.

van gogh living wall painting at national gallery of london summer 2011

Art (1889) and Imitation (2011)

Don’t get me wrong- I love Vincent Van Gogh’s work.  I think he was, in many respects, a good decade ahead of his contemporaries (no wonder he felt so alone), but contrast his avant-garde artistic sensibility with this current project: (1) select plants for their capacity to recreate the specific colors and textures of Van Gogh’s A Wheatfield, with Cypresses and then (2) plant them not in an homage of ‘art inspired by’ but in a direct recreation of the painting.  A planting of a painting of wheatfield is not ‘a painting come to life’, it is a living wall shackled to the past.

Van Gogh’s painting come to life would mean publicizing the geospatial coordinates of where in Saint-Rémy he painted it (presuming it’s not now a strip mall) and encouraging a variant form of pilgrimage.  There are literary Lake District tours through England, why not Impressionist vista routes through France?  The sedum and grass covered wall (I don’t actually know the species, but the wall faces west, so presumably something capable of handling any summer heat waves) is horticulture redux, paint by numbers with plants.  News flash: the dirtying of one’s hands does not at all equate with a sleepiness or dullness of one’s mind.

The kicker: they did it in the name of some green washing.  The National Museum of London and General Electric brought us this adventure in the name of including in each and every press release a little pat on the back for GE for “helping the gallery reduce its carbon foot print”.  That calculation certainly wasn’t helped by hauling 8,000 plants hither and yon,  so what did they do?  The bare minimum of what they should be doing anyway: use the by-products of one building process (basic electricity) to ease the burden of another building process (heat).

That should be the baseline.  You don’t get kudos for doing your job, and, though funding this project may help assuage some reticent anti-green-building hardliners, I’d rather have seen a cadre of landscape architects and designers hired to create innovative green roof designs that helped insulate the building, cleaned the filthy London air, and mitigated storm water drainage flows. Now that, that would be a great marriage of art and ecology, no green suds in sight.

(the picture of the planting is from

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3 responses to “The Green Wall Art Fail.

  1. Ha! Yes! I totally agree

  2. Pingback: Staring at a Blanc canvas. | eatcology

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