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Plant Cure

September 6, 2017 – October 29, 2017

Curator: Maddy Rosenberg

A plant may just relieve an itch, heal a sore or more than occasionally hold life and death within their aesthetically pleasing shapes. They may be palliatives to the ills of daily lives or ease us through our passing. To seek out nature’s healing properties within the plant world and transform it into the matter of art was the quest of the five selected Artists in Residence at New York Academy of Medicine – C Bangs, Nancy Campbell, James Martin, Susan Rostow and Mary Ting. They joined the curator to delve deep within the shelves of this research library of extensive medical and science collections, in a quest for hidden knowledge and past interpretations. The medicinal properties of certain plant life is long known and documented, it was for these artists to breathe new life into how we view them.

C Bangs delves through recipes of branded potions made illicit, as they gave women control over their own bodies. Nancy Campbell enters the realm of the restorative plants from the Far East, as test and texture echo through transparent planes, with James Martin, the anatomy of the plant weaves around and over human counterparts in amalgam printed layers. The sculptural books of Susan Rostow encrusted with mushrooms, embedded within and along the surface, find themselves mirrored and thrust into the world. Mary Ting takes a bit of the garden, a dash of civic activism, adds various elements and comes out the other side. Maddy Rosenberg assembles pieces of historical texts into a file of medical products not to be found in everyday references.

But the mysteries can be uncovered and transformed by artists through other source materials as well. The delicate watercolors of Agnes Murray belie the utilitarian properties of the decorative summer geranium she references. Nature is the backbone of the work of Cynthia Back as she focuses her attention on the wild, while reducing it color by color. Margot Glass draws ghostlike images of dandelions, the emanating light feeling more like the x-ray of a plant emblazoned into the earth, while Elizabeth Whiteley draws the flowers in silver, with line and edges doing the contour defining.

Marisa Benjamim goes beyond the description of plants, she lives off of a diet of her own making, medicine for the body and not just of the soul. Lee Salomone walks us down a garden path paved with specimens from another continent, that of his native Australia. James Walsh gives us a botanist’s viewpoint of cataloging and documenting as he excavates through implanted information. Geraldine Ondrizek, too, uses the plant as a medium with embedded dandelions echoed by drawn ones.

Utilizing her own plant-derived inks, Kate Temple explores the realm of nature’s healing secrets through the subtleties of abstraction. The healer of Sarah Stengle takes a more human form as she gathers the herbs to nurse us by. For Donna Cleary, symbolic use is manifested in sculptural objects that bear more than cosmetic relief. Gaby Berglund-Cardenas uncovers the medicinal mysteries of a particular Chinese tea, contained in a box; it takes Tessa Grundon to build her own medicine cabinet, of curatives that beckon us to pick and prune.

Through various media and materiality, these artists come to portray more than the earthly delights we find in the plant world. They reveal secrets and restorative solutions within the leaves and petals, vines and roots, that have survived accusations through the ages of being both magical and miraculous -and proven to be scientific at the very least.