Public gardens are increasingly trying to integrate art and nature, incorporating artworks into their exhibits to amplify the garden experience.
The appeal of this approach was made clear last year, when the New York Botanical Garden’s show on Frida Kahlo, melding her art and garden styles, broke attendance records. It even eclipsed the garden’s 2012 Monet show, in which the organizers created an approximation of Claude Monet’s garden in Giverny, France. “It is a new form of interpretation, and we are also always looking for new audiences,” said Gregory Long, president of the New York Botanical Garden. “More intellectually, the visual arts and gardening and garden design are kindred spirits; it is a natural pairing.”
This spring the New York Botanical Garden will mount “Impressionism: American Gardens on Canvas,” in which a show of painting and sculpture complements its evocations of the Impressionist garden. And the Huntington — the library, collections and gardens in San Marino, Calif. — is currently showing “The Artist’s Garden: American Impressionism and the Garden Movement: 1887-1920,” in which it has combined an art exhibition with a garden planted with flowers shown in the art.
“Curators are broadening their own perspective across the disciplines,” said Susan Turner-Lowe, a Huntington spokeswoman. And in Nashville, exhibitions that link Cheekwood’s garden and its museum are attracting strong audiences.
It can be difficult for gardens to host art exhibitions because they are less likely to have the appropriate gallery space, temperature controls and security.
Nevertheless, Marie Selby Botanical Gardens in Sarasota, Fla., has arranged to borrow “The Lovers,” the 1913-14 Marc Chagall painting, from the Israel Museum for its exhibition next year, which will focus on the artist’s love of flowers and botanical images. “Chagall spent the later part of his life in the South of France,” noted Selby’s president, Jennifer Rominiecki, who formerly worked at the New York Botanical Garden.
“The horticultural displays will attempt to depict the French Riviera that inspired him,” she added. “ We will integrate some of his key quotes about the flora and fauna of St. Paul de Vence, where he lived.”
Gardens are not alone in expanding the media in their exhibitions; museums are using garden elements. For “Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse,” the current show at the Royal Academy of Arts in London, the curator, Ann Dumas, used related objects. Visitors can see the receipt for the hybrid water lily that Monet ordered from the Latour-Marliac nursery and the letter he wrote to get permission to divert a small river on his property. There are also books, botanical journals and period-style garden furniture.
This month, a major exhibition of the works of the American artist Childe Hassam will open at the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh and then travel to the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Mass. Visitors will be encouraged to visit Appledore, an island that straddles the coasts of Maine and New Hampshire, where Hassam spent more than 20 summers. He often painted the famous garden, lush with poppies, lilies and roses, of the poet Celia Thaxter, who lived on Appledore.
Although only 10 percent of his work was done on the island, including many landscapes and views of adjacent islands, “the garden is the foundational experience for Hassam, and Celia Thaxter’s garden there forms a core of his experience on the island,” said Austen Barron Bailly, the Peabody Essex’s American art curator. The current tenant, Shoals Marine Laboratory, has restored the garden and will offer tours.
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