For two weeks, world-renowned Belgian floral artist Daniël Ost and his team happily exhausted themselves preparing for the New York Botanical Garden’s 2018 Orchid Show. During the day Daniël moved back and forth between the Nolen Greenhouses and the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory at the NYBG. At the greenhouses he selected plant treasures, orchids, and enhancing companion plants that suited his color palette and design acumen. Then at the conservatory, Daniël and his Belgian team Damien and Marco assiduously arranged, assembled, planted, reviewed. The NYBG staff assisted.
With the assistance of Karen Daubmann (Associate VP for Exhibitions and Public Engagement), whose expertise helped to shepherd the project, and many assistants, Ost and Marc Hachadourian, Director of the Nolen Greenhouses and Curator of the Orchid Collection, solidified the final oeuvre.
As a aid to understanding the process, Marc shared a tidbit with press that speaks to his veneration for Ost as a floral artist with vision, integrity and ethics. In his position as Director of the Nolen Greenhouses, Marc is a sentinel about the inviolability of the plants there. He takes his responsibilities as watchman seriously as he monitors his plant brood, giving them prodigious care.
Hachadourian and Ost discovered an ineffable camaraderie in their shared passion for the diversity, form, shape, color, and uniqueness of orchids and companion plants. Their mutual respect ignited creative genius and moved Marc to do something he never does. He allowed Daniël access to the greenhouses for plant selection. Of course Ost was beside himself with joy.
Each evening, after viewing and selecting plants he thought perfect for the displays, Daniël returned to the city with Damien and Marco for a good night’s sleep. Their accomplishments and hard work were satisfying. Asleep in the “city that never sleeps,” they prepared intellectually, emotionally, and physically for their next day’s foray to the Garden. Finally, their prodigious efforts over these weeks and their planning with NYBG staff during the year yielded a riotous pageantry of floral beauty. The Orchid Show 2018 is a most amazing artistic installation.
Viewing and reviewing the photographs I took of the exhibit, I’m struck by the team’s innovation, particularity, and ingenuity. This gorgeous living theatrical presentation transports one beyond what orchid enthusiasts typically expect from traditional exhibits. Orchid carpets? None. Masses of phalaenopsis (moth orchids)? No! The usual hackneyed greenery? Never. Typical architectural shapes? No way!
Instead, other elements abound. Enhancing architecture that reflects the conservatory’s Victorian glass and lattice-work structure? Absolutely. An orchid array of unparalleled diversity, singularity, numerical multiplicity? Incredibly so. The unusual that captures the particularity of nature’s incredible design in the form of the orchid family’s diversity? Tremendously.
Ost embraces nature and sustainable natural elements and has done so since childhood. In Belgium (he lives and works in Sint-Niklaas), he has been referred to as “The Picasso of flower arranging.” And in France, many know him as “the international star of floral decoration.” Ost credits the evolution of his design sensibility to training, first in Belgium and the Netherlands, and to his first visit to Japan, in 1983, where he studied with grand master of ikebana (floral design) Noboru Kurisaki. He befriended Kurisaki and has visited Japan a number of times since. Certainly, this interaction informs Ost’s work.
The artistry in Ost’s work in this show attacks one’s sensibility with maverick and joyful expressivity. Charmed, I become hard pressed for facile description. His efforts move me beyond definition.
Perhaps Daniël Ost’s philosophy and experience best explain the show’s impact and effects. For him, flowers convey a multitude of expression. He employs them as a coherent vehicle of meaningful whimsy and intriguing design. One’s imagination ignites, and appreciation for nature’s immutable variety collides with wonder. Daniël’s artistic gifts transmute the form of flowers into new structures, new creations. To do this he also uses physical structures. In this show he employs bamboo (from Georgia) and clear plastic tubing, configuring these materials to mirror the grids and latticework in the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory.
Thus, his floral designs align with the conservatory, and while they are here become integral to it. Then, as surely as an orchid’s beauty fades, so will his work go the way of entropy. Only photographs and memories will remain, but happily so. For viewing this show in person is an enthralling experience of the senses. The sights, sounds, and orchid aromas (jasmine, lemon, sweet fruit, and vanilla or chocolate of dancing lady orchids (oncidium) pleases beyond what photographs and memories can manage. This show, like other NYBG installations, becomes interactive theater which soothes and calms, a treasure to be appreciated.
One orchid species differs monumentally from another. Each orchid with its own exquisite form is a unique individual. The form of the flower enhances its place among its brothers in diversity and similarity. In Daniël’s artistic world each single orchid gains a status of its own. And if you take the time to look, you can appreciate a single flower’s integral, important place in the whole. As ikebana mentor Noboru Kurisaki taught Ost, “A single flower used in the right way can have more impact than thousands of flowers en masse.”
Mindful of his training in ikebana, the Japanese art of flower arranging, Daniël displays in his art the wabi-sabi philosophy, in which beauty excels in imperfection. Asymmetry and impermanence represent authentic aspects of nature’s greatness. This is the inspiration for Ost’s 18-foot-sculpture rising up into the dome of the Palms of the World Gallery. The reflective plastic tubing twists, loops, ripples, circles, and doubles back on itself. Amid this see-through plastic tubing and with shining clarity, multitudes of diverse orchids prosper, thread, suspend, cling, perch, startle, “represent” their epiphytic natures, enjoy the light and air, and hang. And as they grow, they sculpt themselves asymmetrically within the intricate plastic twinings to which they adhere. The sculpture represents the balance of nature’s imbalance.
In the Seasonal Exhibition Galleries and main 360-degree Centerpiece Gallery, Ost uses the structural elements of the conservatory to inspire his creations. The centrally staged grid bamboo mound echoes the domes of the conservatory, and the bamboo centerpiece provides a host for Ost’s voluminous selection of disparate flora.
Within this sculpture, Ost showcases nature’s incredible orchid diversity with phalaenopsis, paphiopedilum, oncidium, vandas, catalyas, and more. Furthermore, he color coordinates the orchids in what one would think would be jarring contrasts of pinks, oranges, fuschias, and yellows. He and the team set the orchids with companion plantings such as Kalanchoe, Vrisea, Phormium, croton, dracena, in wild colors and crazy mottlings. All cohere and conjoin in a fantastic display of vibrance and vitality.
Indeed, Ost’s impeccable selection of plants boggles the imagination. He creates playful color themes. He uses the architectural design structures of bamboo and tubing to enhance the living arrangements. All this speaks to the artistic genius of this man whose obsession with flowers inspires unparalleled one-of-a-kind creations. The installations exude innovation, and reflect the joy of the unique and individual life of each planting, whether it be epiphytes high in the air or cymbidiums embedded in luxurious soil.
At the New York Botanical Garden, I have come to expect the unexpected. For as long as I have been writing about the Orchid Show, one of its most popular, I have learned to eradicate assumption. The space remains the same, yes. But each show becomes its own fantastic dreamscape of dissimilarity.
And though I have attempted this exercise, there is no easy way to remember the transcendent designs and application of floral genius in the unchanging space of the glasshouses from year to year. One may review the previous year’s photographs or shuffle through one’s memory. But the show evanesces, like the flower it honors. And the orchids and companion plantings (with a few exceptions) will disappear to be replaced by another fanciful and ethereal installation after April 22 when this show closes: Georgia O’Keefe’s Hawaii.
Most assuredly, I defy anyone, save the staff, to recall the specific plantings of each of the orchid presentations over these last seven years. For they have been divergent, gorgeous, splendiferous. Add this exceptional show to that sequence of wonders. It manifests another spectacular rendering of one of the most alluring, sensual, and mysterious of flower exotics, the orchid. When you visit the Garden to appreciate Daniël’s striking artistry, just take it in, enjoy the sights, sounds, and beauties, and allow your senses to be ravished. You will be thrilled you did.
For additional programming visit the NYBG website. Also, Orchid Evenings run from 6:30-9:30 p.m. on March 17, 24 and 31 and April 6, 7, 13, 14, 20 and 21. The Orchid Show runs until April 22.