Cannabis Makes Its Modern Art Debut in New York City

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Earlier this month, a trendy crowd squeezed into a makeshift gallery at New York City’s Museum of Modern Art (MOMA), to see cannabis make its debut on the modern art stage. The timing of the event couldn’t have been more apt, as New York legislators are currently crafting a bill that would legalize an adult-use market in the state.

The artistic appreciation of cannabis is grounded, for some, in the Japanese art of flower arranging known as Ikebana.

At MOMA’s PS1 satellite in Queens, there was little political talk. Instead, real-live hemp plants—courtesy of the upstate New York farm Hudson Hemp—with the addition of various flowers, ferns and fruits, had been arranged into a series of vibrant, living sculptures.

As they arrived at the event, called “Hothouse,” visitors crowded around the half-dozen pieces, each displayed on a white pedestal, and snapped photos. While the arrangements were sensational, even glamorous, the event also worked to normalize cannabis and frame the plant in a refreshing, aesthetic context.

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‘Hothouse’: Cannabis Plants as Art

The display was accompanied by a panel discussion, featuring five acclaimed cannabis advocates: Anja Charbonneau, the Editor in Chief and Creative Director of Broccoli magazine (who will be on the Leafly podcast “The Hash” on Feb. 17); the floral arranger and writer Amy Merrick, who crafted the pieces on display; Alice Grandoit, a designer and cannabis grower; and Mennlay Golokeh Aggrey, a cannabis grower and author of The Art of Weed Butter.The event was moderated by Georgia Frances King, Ideas Editor at Quartz.

As they arrived at the event, called 'Hothouse,' visitors crowded around the half-dozen pieces, each displayed on a white pedestal, and snapped photos.

The panelists shared a love of plants, but their perspectives and experiences differed. The conversation focused less on cannabis’ effects than its beauty, and the lessons learned from a lifetime of plant tending.

Merrick and Grandoit mentioned that appreciation of cannabis is grounded in the Japanese art of flower arranging known as Ikebana—a tradition that dates back to the 7th Century. Merrick studied Ikebana in Japan where, she said, “it’s this super macho thing over there.”

I Call This One Consuela

Grandoit told the crowd she treats her plants like children, giving them names and playing them music. When King asked her to name the nearest floral arrangements, she settled on “Consuela,” with a giggle.

“They’re so delicate,” Aggrey observed of cannabis plants. “It’s so important to see them bloom and turn into big girls.”

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Aggrey, who lives in Mexico City, also pointed out that beautiful plants can serve more practical purposes as well. In Mexico as in the United States, flowers play a part in funereal rites. The gorgeous displays behind her hinted at an unspoken question: Why not incorporate cannabis plants as well?

Later, Charbonneau, who collaborated with Merrick on a photo collection of similar arrangements in Broccoli’s inaugural issue, addressed cannabis on a more existential level.

“It has a way of showing you things about yourself,” she said, as the standing-room-only crowd nodded. “The more you know, the less you know.”

It’s. A. Plant.

For John Gilstrap, the co-founder and vice president of Hudson Hemp, “Hothouse” served to “mitigate some of the stigma around the plant.”

“Seeing it intermingle with other flowers we all know—like birds of paradise, and fruits and vegetables—shows that it’s natural, like all these other plants.” Remarking on the crowd, he added: “[An event like this] brings people out of the shadows.”

When it came time for the audience to ask questions, many focused on notions of diversity and advocacy in the industry.

“Corporate responsibility is trendy [right now],” Charbonneau told the crowd. “Everyone’s trying to be good. Everyone’s super engaged,” she said. “There’s power in community.”

As “Hothouse” demonstrated with exuberance and style, that community is already alive and thriving in New York City.

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