Most will be familiar with the Flowers empire, established in the early 70s; it has a popular gallery space in New York, London’s Shoreditch as well as another smaller branch on Mayfair’s prosperous Cork Street. The latter has just wrapped their 2010 programming with their annual ‘Small is Beautiful’ exhibition, which began in 1972, and has been running almost every year, calling on both the gallery’s roster of international artists, as well as inviting emerging artists to create pieces no larger than 9 x 7 inches.
On a Saturday lunchtime we had an auspicious encounter with owner Matthew Flowers, a gregarious and frank raconteur, who was happy to share his thoughts. Flowers is unabashedly candid about the genesis and purpose of the exhibition; as we began to ask about the concept of the show, the penny dropped – the smaller the works, the more the gallery can exhibit, and the more they exhibit the more can be sold. The timing of the show, which began in December, and the size of the works all have a commercial motive that Flowers readily admits to. With this privileged knowledge it was strange to view an exhibition that didn’t seem to attempt and adhere to any curatorial theme, (though Flowers adds that this is not always the case for this annual exhibition) from a critical perspective. This is a selling show, and its primary aim is to encourage buyers, not inspire critics, with works on display in a neatly portable format for those who can afford them.
However, to neglect the merit of the works as art forms in their own right because they have been selected for their saleability would be detrimental. There is discipline inherent in producing art works on this scale, and of the vast array of 150 artists exhibiting at Flowers, some are particularly successful – others, perhaps less so – there is a plethora of underwhelming pieces, such as an installation made of masking tape, which makes you marvel at the absurdity of art proffered as commerce.
Of the more impressive are the 3 dimensional pieces. A series of small scale sculptures are fascinating, as are a number of the installation pieces – a small boxed scene of inanimate objects, curios of miniature creatures in jars – and to the credit of the gallery, all organised in a fashion that belies the overcrowded nature of the exhibition. There is too a benevolent aspect to Flowers’ enterprise; the artists they call upon in putting together the show are provided with a platform, both in terms of inspiration and in creating works to fit the size limitations whilst promoting their work through an international dealership. This is the art world as Mayfair sees it; brutally commercial to some, an opportunity for others.
In fact, there is a host of works here which do not, at first sight, seem to be straightforwardly commercial. A video installation portraying a hand drawn stop animation, which weaves a seamless visual narrative from the natural to the manmade, is captivating and has more in common with the progressive contemporary desire to mix media in new and unexpected ways. Taking it all in, we began to think that perhaps paradoxically it is easier to access of the meaning of the works when they are stripped of the pride and pomp of the curatorial blurb. Besides, it is always enjoyable to embark on the millionaire role play – what would you buy? Where would you put it?
-- Charlotte Jansen
All images courtesy the artists and Flowers Central
images: small is beautiful XXVIII Installation View; Kleio Gizeli, Ishmael before the Flood 2010, Mixed media, 23 x 10 x 23 cm / 9¼ x 4 x 9¼ in