So, an artist, a curator, and a designer walk into a garden …

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Photo by Claire Schneider
Photo by Claire Schneider

When the words “garden” and “art” collide, you get all kinds of results. There might be a garden that contains one or more unique objects made by artists. Another could be  filled with whirligigs, gazing balls, sun catchers, or—possibly—gnomes.

Or maybe the two words  mean nothing more than rows of resin statuettes on the shelves of a garden center. Sadly, garden art is interpreted too often as mass-produced décor in the eyes of the industry, and that definition has been accepted by far too many gardeners.

Nonetheless, I have long felt that art and artists can play important roles in the making of a garden, and I’ve tried to bring the contributions of artists whom I admire into my garden, with some success. But I never looked at my garden as an art installation in of itself, one that would require the collaboration of a curator, an artist, and a designer.  That is far more ambitious.

Photo by Brendan Bannon
Photo by Brendan Bannon

Buffalo curator Claire Schneider has that ambition. A longtime avid gardener, she’s always maintained plantings (mainly food) wherever she has lived.  Formerly a curator at Buffalo’s Albright-Knox Art Museum, she recently founded CS1 Curatorial Projects, which “facilitates creative art projects in unexpected
space.” In February, she contacted artist Al Volo (above, left) and landscape designer Matt Dore (above, right) to plan this small front garden project on Buffalo’s Bidwell Avenue (in the heart of the city’s Elmwood Village neighborhood). The project is entitled Territory of Collaboration.

According to both artist Volo and designer Dore, the templates of the initial garden design—now in very early stages—are inspired by the architecture of the house as well as by forms that have long been part of Volo’s art. Volo, a master of ironic whimsy, creates sculptural figures that deliberately recall and subvert the animal kitsch we might find on a shelf of garden décor. (Here’s a link for more on Volo.) Volo’s “duck/rabbit” shape is loosely interpreted throughout the garden installation and may be more evident when it is completed.

Photo by Claire Schneider
Photo by Claire Schneider

The plants to be added will recall shapes found in the house—the bulb-shaped turret, the scalloped shingles, the pointed stained glass windows—as well as “smoke, steam, and flowing water.” What can be seen now are the curving bones of the design. The rock-filled depression at left is a “water navel” that will collect and direct rain water.

Photo by Brendan Bannon
Photo by Brendan Bannon

Schneider (above) was initially inspired by Robert Irwin’s Getty Center garden; she is also interested in creating a structured garden in a city famous for its free-wheeling cottage gardens. This garden will not resemble the explosions of color and texture to be found throughout Buffalo’s celebrated Garden Walk—which makes it all the more interesting. I’ll be reporting on its progress.

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regularly radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world,and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at yahoo.com

7 COMMENTS

  1. I’m struck by how different this will look from the ground as opposed to the aerial view (and from different angles as well). It must be complicated figuring all of that out! It’s really wonderful, and I also hope you’ll keep us updated!

  2. These are so cool — but I do love gnomes! My small, worse-for-wear gnome will be making the move this month from Tennessee to Buffalo — so keep your eyes peeled for him!

  3. What a great collaboration of an artist, curator and a designer! The result of their garden art work was superb! That’s the biggest advantage of being an artist. It’s really not easy to landscape a garden, especially if it’s not your field but what a great collaboration indeed!love it!

  4. Popular art such as Norman Rockwell or Maxfield Parrish can be top-notch. But art should also challenge us in every generation. I never thought of gardens as challenging in that respect, but I should have. My garden is not so much art as it is an expression of existential dismay.

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