By looking at a part of the history of the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam (SMA), Inge Meijer got intrigued by the appearance of plants in the exhibitions. Drawn to their implicit role in the museum and their particular narrative, Meijer started an extended research on the existance of plants as part of the exhibition design of the SMA.
After the Second World War in 1945, when Willem Sandberg started as the director of the SMA, he introduced plants into the exhibition space. This lasted until 1983. The plant collection grew gradually until, at a certain moment, a museum attendant, H.J. van der Ham, was specifically appointed to take care of the plants and got offered a two-year education to become a horticulturist. He took upon this task with much devotion and kept a personal archive in which a great deal of photos and documents concerning his work with the plants and correspondence with Willem Sandberg was preserved.
What does it mean if plants are part of the museum apparatus? Some of them lived for decades in the museum and were placed in a variety of exhibitions. They appeared next to art pieces by e.g. Piet Mondriaan, Francis Bacon, Niki de Saint Phalle, Mark Rothko and Pablo Picasso. How does one experience an alive, habitual creature in need of water, light and soil next to a ‘dead’ object? Were these creatures used as decoration? The presence of plants open up something that is unknown to many and has been forgotten by others. Their presence then, in contrast to their absence now, shows an interesting change of conception. What was considered normal in the post-war museum seems unthinkable in the contemporary art museum; not only in terms of aesthetics, but also in view of safety and conservation regulations.