In 1982, when Andy Warhol responded to a national call for artists to create public art for the Tacoma Dome, his proposed pop-art floral image that would have covered the roof was…less than well received by the public. “Flowers for Tacoma,” on view at the Tacoma Art Museum now through Feb. 10, features documentation from the public process following the Tacoma Dome’s call for artists, along with citizen comments surrounding the five proposals chosen by the arts commission. Warhol’s proposal and the resulting dialogue came at a pivotal time in the evolution of Tacoma, where the issue of public art was hotly debated from 1982-85. “Almost no one wanted Warhol at the time,” said Rock Hushka, director of curatorial administration. “The public process that ensued has been the subject of several case studies about how the public shaped the process overall.”
Today, 30 years later, TAM is exhibiting the first-ever collection of “Flowers” in a museum, to commemorate the time when one of the world’s most influential artists considered the future of our fair city…even if just for a minute. “Flowers for Tacoma” includes more than 100 vibrant, colorful pieces displayed on aluminum foil-covered walls in tribute to the wallpaper in his studio. The exhibit includes his early illustrations, photographs and paintings that led to the creation of the infamous “Flowers” series. Although at the time critics called “Flowers” second-rate art, Warhol’s fascination with the form and importance of flowers in everyday life has made these pieces incredibly popular in the eyes of the public. And even locally, advocates continue to push for Warhol’s vision to be realized on the roof of the dome, which is nearing the end of its life expectancy. A group of individuals calling themselves the “Citizens to Install Andy Warhol’s Flower on Tacoma Dome,” continue to raise awareness about the proposal and his unique vision for Tacoma.
Warhol himself did not completely disagree with the critics of “Flowers,” and was troubled when he saw this collection gaining momentum in the art world. “In his mind, ‘Flowers’ were equal to his ‘Electric Chairs’ series, and he was upset people were buying the easy stuff,” Hushka said. For a brief moment, he insisted he would stop painting flowers altogether, out of principle, of course. However, only a year passed before he relented. Throughout his career, he created more than 900 flowers ranging in size from 5-inch squares to 7X13 feet pieces. Although Warhol’s insistence that “an image is an image” – regardless of whether it is a painting, print or photograph – he charged the most for his paintings. “He was a very astute businessman,” Hushka jokingly added. For more information about the exhibit, visit http://www.tacomaartmuseum.org.