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It Speaks to Me: Mark Allen on 'Bouquet of Flowers on a Ledge'

The artist discusses Ambrosius Bosschaert's 'Bouquet of Flowers on a Ledge,' 1619, at LACMA.

April 25, 2012|By Mark Allen, as told to Jori Finkel
  • "Bouquet of Flowers on a Ledge," a 17th century Dutch painting.
"Bouquet of Flowers on a Ledge," a 17th century Dutch painting. (Ambrosius Bosschaert )

I've always been interested in ways that paintings function as anthropological evidence of moments in time, and I'm a fan of the Charles Mackay book from 1840 "Extraordinary Public Delusions and the Madness of Crowds," which traces the history of the Dutch tulip bubble.

This painting precedes the collapse of the bubble; it's not a direct comment on tulip mania. But it's a moment when people get really excited about collecting tulips and they start seeking variations in the plant caused by the mosaic virus, which produced the variegated or striped tulips you can see in the painting. The virus actually weakens the plant, making rare and beautiful variations that make it more viable for economic speculation.

I love the connections: how this aesthetic thing is caused by this biological thing, which leads to it becoming a vehicle for capital. The painting also looks like a Pop Art version of a 17th century still life — the bright blue background, the cartoonish style and the lacquer-like sheen created by the way it's painted on metal.

And I love the symbols of death built into these paintings: the brown spots on the yellow flower, then the beetles and bugs. It's this beautiful object that embeds very contemporary concerns — death and out-of-control financial instruments.

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