Tomato plants in Stedelijk Museum Bureau Amsterdam

This summer, the German artist Uli Westphal is transforming the Stedelijk Museum Bureau Amsterdam into a greenhouse with over sixty unique tomato plants. This extraordinary collection serves to portray the evolution of tomatoes from a wild plant into an industrial product. The collection includes ancient, pre-Columbian ancestors of modern tomatoes, as well as traditional tomato varieties from all parts of the world, but also refined, industrial species, like the first tomato cultivated for complete mechanical harvesting. When the tomatoes are ripe in SMBA, visitors will have the chance to taste the unique flavours and textures, learn to extract seeds from the tomatoes and to preserve and even adopt a tomato plant. The project fits perfectly into the SMBA's space, with its transparent dome, where temperatures during the cucumber season often reach greenhouse levels.

Tomatoes on Uli's roof terrace

The main part of the exhibition builds on Westphal's long-term research about the diversity of crops; tomatoes in particular. For years, he has looked for obscure fruit and vegetable samples which were barred from the consumption market due to their poor cosmetic standards. Westphal collaborates with non-profit organisations, gene banks and growers, but he himself cultivates all kinds of plants. The exhibition is a literal transplant of his own research greenhouse on the roof of his studio in Berlin to the exhibition space of SMBA in Amsterdam. Besides the plants, the exhibition includes a series of works that explore the impact of the food system on our relationship with the natural world. As society has become more and more detached from its food, there appears to be a lack of knowledge about its origins. The food sector fills this gap with a romanticised image of agriculture in stark contrast with the actual methods of food production. Often, the only remaining link between food producers and consumers is the supermarket. Hence in Westphal's work, the grocery store is an important place to explore.

The exhibition in the SMBA

"Uli Westphal - Transplantation" is thematically linked to earlier projects of the SMBA focused on the effects of global trade on modern life and contemporary art. Crops are immensely affected by global trade and are currently largely controlled by the global food market. A small number of exporters dominate this market and promote a mono-cultural model of agriculture that is largely dependent on irrigation systems, petrochemical fertilisers and pesticides. This model not only leads to a rapid decline in crop diversity, but also to changes in traditional and local farming systems in the so-called Global South. The guards of the world's remaining biodiversity are farming communities in Africa, Asia and South America. "Uli Westphal - Transplantation" raises questions about the current state of affairs in agriculture and the future of our culinary world.

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