Asian theme gives new look to Art Alive opening


On the evening of April 29, the “Bloom Bash” opening of San Diego Museum of Art’s 35th annual Art Alive floral art exhibition featured an Asian theme, lion dancers, a dragon made of 50,000 flowers, and the welcome presence of Pan Gongkai, the acclaimed Chinese artist who curated and contributed to the museum’s new “Brush and Ink” exhibit.

The Asian theme elicited a number of Ikebana-style interpretations of works from the museum’s collection, and the elegant simplicity of the Japanese arrangements won the day, with Hiroko Fukuhara, from the Sogetsu School of Ikebana, taking first prize for her striking rendition of a 16th-century Spanish painting of St. Francis.

Jackie Zhang, a longtime member of the La Jolla Village Garden Club and a master teacher at Ohara Ikebana, explained her own floral design, based on Pan Gongkai’s 45-foot long brush-and-ink piece, “Noble Virtues.”

“Noble Virtues is a very cultured form of Chinese painting, over 2,000 years old, that shows the character of each season as expressed by its finest plants — bamboo for summer, chrysanthemums for autumn, plum blossoms for winter, orchid for spring,” she said. “And Pan Gongkai is very famous in China, for creating a new way to do this traditional painting. Very contemporary, and so good!”

Since Zhang didn’t have any plum blossoms, but she did have a graceful apricot branch with a single small fruit on it, she used that instead. Such substitutions are allowed in Ikebana, but every part of the arrangement must be perfect. “We are very picky,” she said, smiling. And she noted that it wasn’t really odd that an exhibit of Chinese painting should inspire so many Japanese floral arrangements, since Ikebana originally came from China.

After admiring the blooms, Bloom Bash guests moved on to the rest of the evening’s attractions, which including tasty tidbits, creative cocktails, lots of live music and dancing. For the 1,000-plus attendees, it was definitely a Bash to remember.