The Gardner Museum’s ‘Composite Landscapes’ exhibit looks at the art of landscaping

Experimental fish farm along the rue de Rivoli, Jardin des Tuileries, Paris
Experimental fish farm along the rue de Rivoli, Jardin des Tuileries, Paris

Despite what the name might imply, there won’t be any lawnmowers present in Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum’s new exhibit ‘Composite Landscapes: Photomontage and Landscape Architecture.’ Rather, the exhibit defines landscape architecture and explores the distinction between landscaping and gardening. The former, as it turns out, is an entirely more artistic botanical enterprise.

“Composite Landscapes” reclaims landscape architecture as rooted in art, and the mind and imagination. “We can imagine where and therefore how we live. “These pieces convey the conceptual nature of landscape architecture,” says Charles Waldheim, the exhibit’s curator and Chair of the Department of Landscape Architecture at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design. “But you don’t have to be interested in landscape architecture.  We want it to be accessible to all museum goers and show the fun behind the creations.”

“Landscaping is specifically human, it’s hard to imagine us without it,” Waldheim continues. “But though all cultures are involved with gardening, which involves the use of plant materials, not all cultures are involved in landscaping, which is spacial.”

The first landscape architects, he says, were artists imagining space.

“Landscape first emerged in painting in western Europe, particularly in the British Isles,” Waldheim explains. “In the 19th century, landscape architecture was a new profession, which fomented in and around Boston and the East Coast. It started in the public realm. The Fens is a good example. It involves the design and shape of a city. In the 1830s, it spun off and really was the beginning of city planning.”

A landscape architect, then, doesn’t necessarily have to have a background in or diverse knowledge of plants.

“Landscape architects work internationally and consult with plant experts locally,” he says. “It’s inconceivable that someone would have knowledge of local plants in the international market place.”

“This is why this exhibit is important,” he adds. “Landscape architecture begins with something that is drawn and involves planning common ground. It exists in the public realm, not in our private gardens. The term has been adapted to homes and leads to categorical confusion that we want to nudge away.”

If you go

June 27-September 2
Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
280 The Fenway, Boston
$15, 617-566-1401
gardnermuseum.org


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