Sunday, June 4, 2023
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Lily Kwong is using her heritage to bring the New York Botanic Garden's orchid show into the present

Orchids are weird. Exotic herbs (literally, culinary herbs come from the

Vanilla planifolia variety). Sometimes it’s waxy, sometimes it’s fuzzy – a messy texture. The most elaborate columns and the most essential corsages. A mainstay of elegant art installations and corporate lobbies. And that’s before you learn about the personalities of individual species. Consider, for example, the Paphiopedilum or slipper orchid, named for its shoe-like appendages, called lobes, into which pollinating insects crawl. Some 13 species of this subfamily appear striped or spotted with “strange hairs and warty bumps,” as an informational plaque at the New York Botanical Garden describes Like the Garden’s Orchid Show – gorgeous and a little weird.

Botanical Garden The popular Orchid Show opens this weekend 13, celebrating the plant’s bizarre and fascinating diversity. Designed by landscape architect and artist Lily Kwong, the exhibit, subtitled “Natural Heritage,” builds on human and natural heritage. This week, Kwong explained that one specific man-made reference was a Chinese scroll that once belonged to her grandparents and was eventually given to her when she got married. In fact, one of the first central installations that visitors see is an enlarged version of the illustration that appears on the scroll – a glorious wave of phalaenopsis looming above the visitor. “One of my hopes for the show,” Kwong said, “is that people pay attention to their own lineage and family history.”

Photo: Courtesy of New York Botanical Garden


Kwong, with her transport Famous – 13 curtain, flowers covered in 2017 – is digging into her past here, specializing in native breeds from the Asian continent. “I wanted to do something that celebrated the Asian community,” she said. (Across town, her cousin, the fashion designer Joseph Altuzarra, is presenting his fall 60 show, a celebration of creativity that seems to match the botanical garden Echoing the distinctly saturated tones in .) “It’s been a tough few years since the pandemic, with anti-Asian hate crimes on the rise. Creating an explosion that feels like this colorful explosion and celebration of the continent’s biodiversity really important.”

Throughout the exhibition, there are poems, collected with the help of scholars, and nestled on placards among the plants that offer opportunities for meditation. A quiet walkway, lined with shallow pools, is fitted with more restrained white and pale green flowers that speak to the concept of yin and yang, where the soft moss contrasts with the solidity of the stone. With its dramatic cascades of color, it’s hard to imagine the show avoiding becoming an Instagram backdrop this season, but these quieter scenes stick to the in-house treatment.



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