Friday, May 30, 2008

Back to Pittsburgh Chocolate: Greenhouses and Pink Flamingos

In the course of a week, about half a dozen people emailed me about the Phipps Conservatory's chocolate exhibit here in Pittsburgh. So just as summer weather was setting in, I walked through Schenley Park to the glass house that is perhaps as famous for the collection of Chihuley sculptures leftover from a recent exhibit is it is for the rare plants that it houses. The current exhibit, called simply "Chocolate!" takes a playful approach to the botanical history of cacao, showcasing plants like the vanilla orchid and chocolate mint. There are a few odd things about the exhibit. First, the cacao tree that lives at the Phipps year-round gets scant attention. Second, official exhibit materials get some of the facts wrong, facts as important as the location of Ghana (the world's second-largest cacao producer) on a world map. And third, there is absolutely no connection between chocolate and the exhibit's central motif: pink flamingos.

The second thing is disappointing, gravely disappointing. The third thing, though, isn't that much of a problem. It might be an asset. I've never met a lawn flamingo that I didn't like.

Exhibit designer Michele Frey McCann puts it this way: "I needed a way to light-heartedly represent our obsessions. I was searching for someone (or something) to dive into colorful pools of flowers to candy coat the 'chocolate;' someone (or something) to dip fruits into a 'chocolate' fondue fountain; someone (or something) to immerse oneself into the pleasures of a 'chocolate' spa treatment; someone (or something) to represent one’s favorite 'chocolate;' someone (or something) to shower oneself in 'chocolate' flavors; someone (or something) to enjoy chocolate desserts in a 'chocolate' garden where the pavilion, table, chairs, and other garden ornaments are all made from 'milk chocolate' and many of the plants feature 'chocolate' in their names. And at that moment... a vision of pink flamingos sporting rubber garden boots popped into my head…from that point on, these awkward looking summer birds became the stars of the show."

Fair enough.


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