Through flowers, foliage and works of art, a huge exhibition in a botanical garden distills the genius of the influential Brazilian landscape artist and designer Roberto Burle Marx.
Trails winding between striking tapestries of bright plants with almost sculptural shapes attract the view. Exotic aquatic lilies look like embroidered trays. In the background, Brazilian music plays.
Oh, and everything is in the Bronx.
In what the New York Botanical Garden qualifies as your display botanical largest to date, “Brazilian Modern: The Living Art of Roberto Burle Marx” celebrates the artist, landscape architect and conservationist in a dazzling display of their gardening style. They accompany the program views and sounds of Brazil in the form of music and dance that evoke Rio de Janeiro, inspiration of the artist’s life and work.
The exhibition opened on 8 June and runs until 29 September.
While many people have heard of modern furniture and houses from the mid-century, there is less talk of modern landscaping from the mid-century. The exhibition is a tribute to a master of that art form.
“It could be said that Roberto Burle Marx was the most celebrated modern landscape architect in the world. He was born in 1909 and died in 1994. His career as a landscape architect began in the late 1930s, and he came to design nearly 3,000 landscapes, ranging from the small garden of an estate to gardens on the roofs of institutional buildings and huge urban parks,” said Todd A. Forrest, vice president of horticulture and living garden collections.
“Most of his work was done in Brazil, but he was globally recognized for his influence,” he added.
One of the characteristic elements of Burle Marx was the use of biomorphic paving patterns, with trails that function as part of the aesthetics of the site, not just a way through them, Forrest said. In addition, the artist often used architectural elements, such as walls, in diverse materials such as concrete or cut steel.
Burle Marx advocated for the use and preservation of wild plants, brazilian, doing long trips of collection to the Amazon and other areas, beating with frequency logging companies, or the construction of roads, said Forrest. He identified and rescued plants that would otherwise have been lost by taking them with him and planting them in his own garden.
Apart from Brazilian plants, Burle Marx “also used the plants of the world in his designs. His designs are famous for their imposing forms with tropical plants,” Forrest said.
“He had an exuberant personality. He was a great singer and made all kinds of drawings and paintings and tapestries and mosaics. His modern abstract style can be seen in his landscapes,” Forrest said. “There is a sense of scale and drama that links its landscapes to the wider landscape that surrounds it. His design has strength, audacity. You see big blocks of color. And often elements of water.”
Aerial photographs of his landscapes, part of the exhibition, resemble his abstract paintings of the time.
The exhibition begins with an extensive outdoor garden and continues under a roof, with a sample of the twenty plants named after Burle Marx, many of which were discovered by the artist. The next segment is in the water garden, with a mixture of Brazilian water lilies and other places in the midst of dramatic plantations.
“We designed a crow Fern plantation of elk, from Africa, planted on a vertical wall. It’s exactly the way he planted his own garden,” Forrest said.
In 1964, when the armed forces took power in Brazil, Burle Marx remained in the country while many of his colleagues fled. He defended the preservation of Brazil’s natural heritage. He was ahead of his time and was very brave, said Forrest.
The exhibition ends with a small but striking exhibition of 14 works of Art by Burle Marx, in the library gallery. The pieces, in a variety of media, vivid colors and shapes, dating from the 50s to the 80s.
“He was entrusted to abstraction at that time, when there was an oppressive regime,” said Joanna Groarke, curator of the exhibitions at the garden library.
Realistic drawings by Burle Marx show plants in his natural biome, while later works turn sharply to abstraction. Later in his career, he created gardens that were like art facilities, Groarke said.