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Marc Quinn’s Kew Gardens exhibition unveiled

Updated: May 2

Kew Gardens in London has unveiled a major art exhibition by celebrated British artist Marc Quinn.

Titled Marc Quinn: Light into Life, it features monumental sculptures across the gardens, and a special selection of Quinn artworks that he’s produced from the 1990s until today.

The mesmerising show explores the relationship between people and plants and is billed as reflecting the artist’s long-standing interest in nature and the human experience. It's also one of the largest exhibitions devoted to a single artist in Kew’s 265-year history.

It looks like it could be the London exhibition of the summer — and not just because of its al fresco setting. Tickets are available to book now.

A huge red orchid sculpture is pictured among the gardens of Kew with a Japanese pagoda in the background
Burning Desire by Marc Quinn at Kew Gardens. © RBG Kew.

New Quinn sculptures

The main attraction for visitors are the 17 stunning new stainless steel and bronze sculptures that have been installed around the Gardens and in Kew's famous Grade I-listed Victorian Temperate House.

These include Event Horizon (Sabal), a colossal sculpture of a palm tree which towers over the Palm House Pond. Made of silvery stainless steel, it reflects the Palm House and the viewer, hinting at the many ways that humans have used and benefitted from palms through history.

There's also five giant orchid sculptures in the exhibition — four in stainless steel and one in a striking, red-painted bronze with the salacious title Burning Desire and which is described as being 'gilded' using car paint. The title according to Quinn plays on the fact that an orchid's flower is also its reproductive organs.

Bonsai plants also take centre stage in the show. In the Held by Desire series, Quinn shows two super-large bonsai sculptures cast in bronze. There are also two bonsai sculptures in a more true-to-life size — basically much smaller.

Bonsai trees are used in the Japanese art of growing and shaping miniature trees in containers. So here Quinn shows the contrasting sizes to highlight how they should look if set free from pruning and management by man. Bascially, they are allowed to grow to their full potential. (And at 5m in a shimmering bronze, here in Kew's Temperate House they also look like the perfect pieces to get a good instagram snap with.)

A woman stands underneath a bronze tree sculpture looking up
Held by Desire (The Dimensions of Freedom), by Marc Quinn. © RBG Kew by Ines Stuart-Davidson

Other parts of the show are also indoors — which is probably a good move due to the unpredictability of the British summer.

Inside Kew's Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art, newly conceived artworks inspired by their archives and scientific research work are shown alongside a selection of existing pieces. These older works often explore the idea of nature as a fundamental part of humanity, a theme Quinn has returned to often since the 1990s.

But overall, more than 20 of the Quinn works displayed in this sprawling exhibition are on public view for the very first time. So visitors really are getting a brand new experience, both indoors and out.

Artist Marc Quinn poses in front of a stainless steel palm leaf shaped sculpture made from stainless steel
Marc Quinn with Event Horizon (Sabal), 2024,by Marc Quinn. © RBG Kew by Ines Stuart-Davidson.

Light into Life reviews

The exhibition was praised by a critic in the Telegraph.

In a four-star review, Evgenia Siokos says it is "a humorous study of natural beauty" and that it "takes the idea of garden sculpture into entertaining new territory."

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Of his exhibition, Quinn has said: "Kew approached me to do something and I came down, and I hadn't been for a long time. And when I came here and realised that they have hundreds of scientists doing research and horticulturists and I spent more and more time here, I realised that there was a whole show to do here, so we worked together to do that."

And the location is also a natural choice as “I’ve been creating images related to horticulture and nature since the early 1990s,” Quinn added.

"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.” 

About Marc Quinn

Marc Quinn is known for his diverse and provocative works that often challenge conventional notions of beauty and identity.

Born in 1964, he rose to prominence as part of the Young British Artists (YBA) movement in the 1990s, alongside artists like Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin.

Artist poses in a black cap and holding a butterfly on his nose
Portrait of Marc Quinn taken by Mary McCartney at Kew Gardens in Spring 2024

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. 

Marc Quinn at Kew Gardens tickets

Admission to Marc Quinn’s exhibition is included in a general admission ticket to Kew Gardens.

Adult tickets are £20. Students and those aged 16-29 can get in for £9. Children 4 to 15 years old are just £5.

It's the perfect summer show too, because — if the sun does shine — it can be visited until 7pm each evening, so book your tickets here.

A woman looks at a large reflective steel sculpture in a garden setting
Our Botanic Selves (Happy Tree), 2024, by Marc Quinn. © RBG Kew by Ines Stuart-Davidson.

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


— Other London exhibitions this summer:


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