For 10 years, artist Abbie Zabar had a ritual: go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and sketch the new floral arrangements adorning the entrance hall. Selections from her Flowers in the Great Hall of the Metropolitan Museum of Art series are on view at Wave Hill in the Bronx, capturing in still life the most ephemeral art of the Manhattan museum.
Abbie Zabar: Ten Year of Flowers is installed in Wave Hill’s Tea Room and features Zabar’s drawings spanning the early 1990s to the early 2000s. Often she visited the museum in the early morning hours. Sometimes she was even granted access before the doors opened to the masses, and from a bench she studied the five huge bouquets that change each week. Drawn with colored pencil, as other art materials are not allowed, each sketch is only about 8 inches by 8 inches, yet each buoyant cloud of color captures the fine details of the huge floral displays.
The four niches in the entrance hall were originally intended for classical sculpture. Now they each hold a flower-filled urn, surrounding a central display at the information desk. The arrangements Zabar sketched were created by longtime Master Floral Designer and Director of Special Events Chris Giftos (now Remco van Vliet is in the role). Funded by an endowment from the late Reader’s Digest co-founder Lila Acheson Wallace, the arrangements reflect the changing seasons and a constant experimentation with mixing exotic and local plants, resulting in forms that often seem gravity-defying. On any given day there might be cherry blossoms, spiky red branches surrounding hydrangeas, sturdy sunflowers, or magnolia leaves bunched around delicate white and pink flowers. The Met keeps its own photographic records of the arrangements, which have been published in books like the 1998 Bouquet from the Met by Barbara Plumb that focused on Giftos’s creations.
Zabar is an avid gardener herself, and a value for the different blooms and branches is evident in her drawings, which resonate well with Wave Hill’s gardens. They may just be quick studies, but there’s an appreciation in them for the art of balance and harmony achieved through the individual elements of the arrangements.