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.
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.
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.
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.