The rediscovery of plants in the first decades of the twentieth century, during the modernist period, an era debatably based on rationality and progress, may have actually been due to people’s enthusiasm for technology, as proposed in Bruno Latour’s book We Were Never Modern. Describing the large number of photography books and films being published on the subject during this period, philosopher Walter Benjamin wrote of a “geyser of new visual worlds,” and a cursory examination of the holdings of the Museum Ludwig reveals that greenery was finding its way into all media. Tropical indoor gardens in German dwellings were depicted on paper, cacti captured on canvases, dresses with floral patterns frozen in gelatin silver prints, and flower buds and sprays formed in marble and bronze. All these depictions of plants were created by people whose conception of themselves was formed by tradition and myths and influenced by the question of whether plants are inanimate or in fact living organisms. Scientific studies of the mimosa, a tropical plant that found its way into the living rooms of the Western world a century ago, spoke in favor of the latter.
The fact that this catalogue is not printed on paper, as it usually would be, reflects our team’s ambition to break new ground in making exhibitions at the Museum Ludwig that are both ecologically and socially sustainable. When our museum opened in 1986, plants were still considered part of the environment that needed to be protected; we are now increasingly realizing that instead of growing on the periphery of an anthropocentric world, plants effectively constitute it. Our aim is to incorporate the ecological system, of which we are only one part, and better understand it in order to proactively counter the climate crisis. This climate-neutral, digital catalogue, which for the first time is also free, the forgoing of art loans and transportation, and many other aspects of the exhibition Green Modernism: The New View of Plants have compelled all of our departments to profoundly reflect on sustainable museum work, find new approaches, and engage in exchanges with others. Our goal is to make the Museum Ludwig a green, decarbonized museum through more than its rooftop garden and this exhibition.