“Floral designers interpret paintings and sculptures at San Francisco’s de Young Museum” 

Floral designers interpret paintings and sculptures at San Francisco’s de Young Museum. It’s 10 a.m. on Monday, June 3, 2019, and 115 floral designers, plus assistants, are racing the clock. They have until 1 p.m. to complete their complex, stunning floral interpretations of some of the most beloved art at the renowned M.H. de Young Memorial Museum in San Francisco, Calif. At 5:30 p.m., the doors will open for the Opening Night Gala, where patrons and attendees will be the first to visit their favorite art pieces re-imagined and interpreted by floral artists.

Despite the time crunch, the panic is muted, and the process is practiced and calm. This is the 35th Bouquets to Art and its producers, the San Francisco Auxiliary of the Fine Arts Museums, have learned a thing or two over the years. Floral designer and teacher at City College of San Francisco, Jenny Tabarracci, AIFD, is putting the finishing touches on her sculptural interpretation of the oil painting, The Great Swamp, 1868.

“Creating an exhibition piece is demanding and different from other floral work,” notes Tabarracci. “Here, we not only have time demands but also a long list of components that designers like to use that are on the no-no list. We can’t use any wood of any sort except newly cut branches. Wood is notorious for harboring insects that could damage the art work.”

Greg Lum, AIFD, EMC, and Lisa Casazza are double-checking that their floral design is attached firmly to the pedestal they requested a month earlier. “The height of our arrangement, plus that of the pedestal, has to be less than the distance from any art work, in case it gets pushed over. Can you imagine damaging our inspiration piece, Orchid and Hummingbird, 1885”? worries Casazza. One of the museum’s conservators arrives to check that the art is being protected. Dressed in a serious white lab coat but with a jaunty sheriff’s badge for the occasion, she scans, nods and moves on to observe the setting up in the other 20 galleries. Everyone breathes.

Over in the huge atrium of Wisely Court, wife-and-husband team Natasha Lisitsa and Daniel Schultz are checking the mechanics of their massive aerial installation, Eclipse. The open-sided squished-egg interior is redolent in red Gerbera, roses, carnations, Anthurium and orchids, with 10,000 stems in all. The beige sisal exterior is the counterpoint to the controlled explosion of color.

“Of course, we can work on this installation only when the museum is closed,” explains Lisitsa. “We had 30 volunteers tubing and attaching the flowers and another eight working with Daniel on the tech install. We were here early Saturday and Sunday morning for five hours and all morning today. Please let the mechanics work!” she laughs looking up as Eclipse starts to spin.

Olena Tcaci, AIFD, EMC, of Dandelion Seeds Floral Art Salon in Winnetka, Ill., interpreting Lettre sur les aveugles II by Frank Stella, 1974

It’s 6 p.m., and it’s show time! Already the de Young museum is packed with beautifully attired guests, many hoping to compete with the flowers! Food to feast the eyes and fill the plates is artfully piled everywhere. There is a double sushi bar. Despite the attraction of food, drink, music and silk-clad dining tables, it’s the flowers that steal the show. There’s a thoughtful approach to seeing the art, gasping at the flowers and then re-seeing the art anew. People marvel at the interpretations, wonder how the floral artists managed to be so insightfully clever and so adroitly skillful. There’s lots of “Oh, come look at this! Isn’t it amazing? Will you take my photograph with this?” Some floral designers at the gala hover close to their art, listening – true artists absorbing their patron’s delighted feedback.

Tuesday morning, the general public is queueing to get into the de Young. Everyone is eager to see this transient exhibit, which blooms for only five days. The Uber drivers know all about it, buses sport Bouquets to Art banners, and local newspapers and TV encourage locals to visit. Visitors from far and wide have booked their trips to coincide with this granddaddy of all museum floral installations. During the week, there are special ticketed luncheons in the Piazzoni Murals Room, a series of floral demonstrations by the royalty of floral designers in the Koret Auditorium, a schedule of opportunities to meet the floral exhibitors with their art, plus activities for families.

Over the years, Bouquets to Art has attracted 800,000 visitors and raised more than $7 million to underwrite exhibitions, conservation and education programs. As Jenny Tabarracci wisely said, as she returned on Wednesday evening to refresh her floral arrangement, “We florists are all about our communities, especially serving education and cultural organizations. It’s what we do!”

To be considered as a Bouquets to Art designer or to find out the dates for 2020’s installation and plan your trip, visit the de Young museum’s website (deyoung.famsf.org) early next year. Then just GO!