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Marc Quinn’s 2024 Kew Gardens exhibition will explore people and plants

Celebrated British artist Marc Quinn has a major art exhibition coming to Kew Gardens in London in summer 2024. 

It will explore the relationship between people and plants and is billed as reflecting the artist’s long-standing interest in nature and the human experience.

Marc Quinn: Light into Life — which will open on Saturday 4 May 2024 — will encompass brand new works, monumental sculptures across the gardens, and a special selection of Quinn artworks that he’s produced from the 1990s until today.

Visitors are promised moments of thoughtful reflection and interaction throughout the gardens, alongside an examination of our complex relationship with the natural world.

Hugely excitingly, the exhibition will be one of the largest site-specific art projects ever hosted at Kew Gardens.

Over 20 newly conceived artworks have been developed through close collaboration with Kew’s scientists and horticulturists. Working with specialists from a variety of fields including taxonomy and plant diversity, Quinn will create pieces based on significant plants from Kew’s world-leading collections.

Amongst these is a large-scale series of sculptures based on specimens of medicinal plants — including Taxus brevifolia (Pacific yew) — the needles of which have been used in the development of cancer treatments. Quinn’s abstract sculptures will then not only tell the vital story of our reliance on the natural world for therapeutic treatments, but will also emphasise the benefits of humanity’s complicated relationship with nature.

A bronze sculpture of a bonsai tree with a white background
Held by Desire (Cloud Garden), 2023. © Marc Quinn Studio. Photo: Hayden Phipps

Bonsai plants also take stage in the show — and in Kew’s iconic Temperate House no less. In Held by Desire, Quinn has created a large bronze bonsai sculpture which will be displayed in the world’s largest Victorian glasshouse, and will speak to the Japanese art of growing and shaping these miniature trees in containers.

Known the world over as the art of growing dwarf trees and shrubs, bonsai plants are kept at a consistently small size through careful pruning, which may be the most painstaking manipulation of nature for aesthetic purposes. Quinn’s 5m sculptural versions in bronze — freeing the tree from human control — allows  the bonsai to blossom to its full potential.

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Kew’s 175-year-old Palm House will also be celebrated by Quinn, who will create a series of new sculptural portraits of palm leaves based on the Bismarck (Bismarckia nobilis) and Sabal (Sabal palmetto) palms from within the glasshouse, often described as Kew’s living laboratory. 

These artworks will speak to our relationship with trees and their role in the shelter, food and fabric of daily survival for billions of people across the world. Created in polished stainless steel, the dialogue reminds us of the role of light in the creation of plants and all living things, and blurs the boundaries between viewer, plant and landscape.

Accompanying Quinn’s new sculptures will be a selection of existing artworks, many of which explore the idea of nature as a fundamental part of humanity, something which the artist has explored in his practice since the 1990s. 

Quinn has also curated a display of works from Kew’s Shirley Sherwood Collection. Historical botanical paintings from the collection will be seen alongside a selection of Marc Quinn’s drawings. These works will reflect the plants which have inspired the artworks integral to Light into Life, including orchids, lilies, bonsai and coconut palms.

Marc Quinn is known for his diverse and provocative works that often challenge conventional notions of beauty and identity. Born in 1964, Quinn rose to prominence as part of the Young British Artists (YBA) movement in the 1990s, alongside artists like Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin.

Quinn gained international acclaim for his iconic sculpture Self, a self-portrait cast in his own frozen blood. He recreates it every five years to document the artist's own physical transformation and deterioration. The first version was made in 1991. A version from 2006 can be seen today at the National Portrait Gallery in London.

One of his other famous works is Alison Lapper Pregnant, a marble sculpture depicting a pregnant and disabled woman, which challenged societal norms of beauty that appeared on the Fourth Plinth in London’s Trafalgar Square from September 2005, to October 2007. 

Black and white portrait of Marc Quinn
Marc Quinn © Marc Quinn Studio

While announcing the exhibition, Marc Quinn said "As humans we are not isolated from our environments; we interact and exist within them as a part of nature. Collaborating with Kew, a world-class centre of botanical research, and its team of scientists and horticulturists, has underlined how integral the natural world is to my practice.” 

He added that he looked forward to “recontextualising previous works from the past 30 years in this unique and special setting."

Marc Quinn at Kew Gardens ticket price

Admission to Marc Quinn’s exhibition is included in a general admission ticket to Kew Gardens. So that means you can pre-book now. Adult tickets are £20. Students and those aged 16-29 can get in for £9. 

We're also promised accompanying books will be published by Kew Publishing.

Marc Quinn: Light into Life runs at Kew Gardens in London from Saturday 4 May until Sunday 29 September 2024

— Also on in London in Summer 2024:

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