The New York–based sculptor Will Ryman (b. 1969) looks to the natural world as a theatrical set. In 2011, on the Park Avenue Mall in Midtown Manhattan, he installed forty massive fiberglass-and-steel roses. For Prospect.3, Ryman again explores this most fickle of flora.
Ryman’s rose sculptures contain a paradox: they balance an emblem of sweet love with darker intentions (after all, a rose can also evoke the transience of life, or even war). When referring to the installation, Ryman references David Lynch’s 1986 film Blue Velvet: “At first, there’s this house with a white picket fence, this perfect world, but then the camera pans from a cheerful bed of roses to a churning, bug-filled underworld that is primal, menacing and, I think, ultimately the truth.”[i] The site of Ryman’s new installation echoes these dark sentiments: the Allard Plantation, now known as City Park, was once New Orleans’s most popular site for duels, and on the edge of the park sits Holt Cemetery, a graveyard for the indigent, filled with memorials made of scraps of wood, PVC pipe, and other discarded materials. In more recent history, Terrilyn Monette, a second-grade teacher, drowned in her car in one of the park canals on her way home one night.
This sense of ominousness could also be borrowed from Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland: when Alice comes upon three playing cards hastily painting roses red, they tell her that they planted white roses by mistake, and if the Queen were to find out, “We should all have our heads cut off.” For their part, Ryman’s two red roses careen through the sky, vicious with large thorns, and his trio of yellow roses pops right out of the ground, like an absurd memorial to all that is buried there.
[i] DorothySpears, “Pushing Petals Up and Down Park Ave.,” New York Times, January 16, 2011, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/16/arts/design/16ryman.html.