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San Francisco Asian Art Museum exhibit explores the art of flowers

This summer is the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love in San Francisco and the San Francisco Asian Art Museum is currently staging an exhibit titled “Flower Power.” The museum website explains, “During the Summer of Love, flowers became powerful symbols of peace, a concept plucked from Buddhist art. More than merely decorative, floral imagery has helped convey ideas from the refined to the revolutionary for thousands of years.”

In addition, the museum organized 2,405 people dressed in pink and green plastic ponchos at the Civic Center Plaza on July 15 to break the Guinness World Record for the largest human flower. The shape of a giant lotus blossom was visible from the air and it represented “peace, unity, inclusivity and purity,” according to museum director Jay Xu. The massive piece of artwork was dubbed “Lotus Live.”

MOVING-GARDENThe Moving Garden by Lee Mingwei exhibit at the San Francisco Asian Art Museum uses fresh gerbera daisies supplied by Kitayama Bros. Co. in the piece and visitors are encouraged to take the daisies and share them with others.Earlier this year, SFAAM reached out to the California Association of Flower Growers & Shippers to see if it would be interested in sponsoring the Flower Power exhibit and the association agreed to a significant donation.

“The ‘Flower Power’ exhibit is not only a wonderful reminder of the symbolic role flowers played in the 1967 Summer of Love phenomenon in San Francisco, but the role flowers have played for centuries in Asian cultures and continue to play in our culture in the present,” said Michael LoBue, chief executive officer at CalFlowers in Capitola, CA.

CalFlowers contacted Kitayama Bros. and asked if we would supply 1,000 gerbera daisies per week from June until October for an exhibit entitled “The Moving Garden” by Lee Mingwei. The exhibit uses fresh gerbera daisies as part of the piece and encourages visitors to take the daisies and share them with others. We were happy to participate in this event because it checks all the boxes for us.

We are Northern California growers and San Francisco is one of our main markets, as Asian-Americans we support the Asian Art Museum, and we have a lot of gerbera daisies from June to October. But, to be honest, we are neophytes when it comes to understanding art.

Leo Tolstoy wrote, “Art is the activity by which a person, having experienced an emotion, intentionally transmits it to others.” And this is exactly what we are trying to do with our flowers. “Flowers express emotions” has been a catch phrase for years — but it’s true. Both art and flowers express joy, euphoria, grief, happiness, love, loss, gratitude and hundreds of other emotions.

I looked up the meaning of art because I am not an artist, but then again, maybe I am. I say this because I could not find an absolute definition but the common idea is “individual expression.” Given this definition, I believe the flower industry is full of artists.

The most obvious artists are the floral designers who create amazing floral art. I also believe growers who pour their heart, soul and passion into their flowers are no less artists. I am trying to find the artistic side of floral sales and possibly we can appreciate the “art of the deal.” How are you expressing your art?

If you happen to be in San Francisco before Oct. 1, please visit the San Francisco Asian Art Museum to experience its vision of flowers and art.

Robert Kitayama is chief executive officer and president at Kitayama Bros. in Watsonville, CA. He can be contacted at