Longing for Paradise
Back to the Garden at the 60 Wall Gallery
With its current exhibition, the 60 Wall Gallery of Deutsche Bank New York commemorates the 40th anniversary of the legendary Woodstock Festival. Works by 18 international artists in "Back to the Garden" show that the longing for a life in harmony with nature inherent in the Flower Power generation still lives on today.
||"We are stardust, we are golden, and we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden…": to this day, the longing of an entire generation still resonates in Joni Mitchell’s anthem to the atmosphere of upheaval of the late sixties. Yet today, the call for a return to a more genuine humanity is laden with ambivalence. In the face of climate change, war, and political and religious fundamentalism, the notion that we can live together free of violence and in communion with nature seems more utopian than ever. At the same time, the current doubts and insecurities are met by a groundswell of environmental awareness and a yes we can optimism.
Back to the Garden, the current exhibition at the 60 Wall Gallery of Deutsche Bank New York, brings together the works of 18 international artists who use the leitmotif of the garden. Featuring drawing, painting, photography, and sculpture, the exhibition explores timeless themes like beauty, transformation, and mortality from a variety of perspectives. A number of works comment on entirely worldly problems, however. Some do this with humor, for instance Luisa Caldwell, who assembles blossoms from fruit stickers, creating works that recall Pop Art and Marimekko textile patterns. Others use metaphorical images, such as Neeta Madahar, who scatters origami flowers on photographic paper and exposes it for the photograms of her series Cosmoses (2006). The delicate floral shapes on monochromatic backgrounds give the viewer the feeling of gazing into a kind of endlessness. Like Madahar’s hyperaesthetic arrangements, the photo works of the French artist Didier Massard also oscillate between the natural and the artificial. What at first glance appears real turns out upon closer inspection to be a fake: the underwater landscape with seahorses and his April Garden (2009) were created and photographed in Massard’s Paris studio. Artificial Paradise was the highly apt title of his 2003 exhibition at the Julie Saul Gallery.
Phoebe Washburn’s drawing RFMM Gardener Schedule Study (2007) is based on her commission for the Deutsche Guggenheim, Regulated Fool’s Milk Meadow. The environment piece operated as a kind of grass factory in which a conveyor belt transported plots of sod to the roof of a room-sized wooden construction, where they gradually dried up. Washburn recorded the lawn care time schedule in a series of drawings that demonstrate the New York artist’s love of highly complex systems.
Gardens are human constructions made for people to commune with nature and draw strength from it. Many of the exhibited works offer distinct views that ponder these possibilities. Others illuminate the transience of life or the darker aspects of human nature. The Japanese photographer Miwa Yanagi, for instance, depicts the evil queen from the Snow White fairy tale. In her hand she holds the apple she will use to poison Snow White. Snow White (2004) does not merely reference the fairy tale, but also the myth of creation that ends in the banishment from paradise.
Ever since Adam und Eve ate from the apple in the Garden of Eden, their naked awareness has unleashed a minefield of dualities: good vs. evil, man vs. woman, Eros vs. Thanatos. As we approach seven billion people living on the planet together, balancing individual vs. global relationships has become more complex than ever before. "Got to get back to the land and set my soul free," sings Joni Mitchell in her song, which voices a yearning for an alternative life and simpler times. The variety of artistic works in Back to the Garden challenge the viewer to explore this utopia critically, but also optimistically—regardless of how sobering reality might be.
Participating artists: Augusta BARREDA (PE) / Donald BAECHLER (US) / Luisa CALDWELL (US) Diane COOK (US) / Justin FRANCAVILLA (US) / Len JENSHEL (US) Neeta MADAHAR (UK) / Didier MASSARD (FR) / Stuart O’SULLIVAN (SAF) Christopher RUSSELL (US) / Alessandra SANGUINETTI (ARG) / Hiroe SAEKI (JA) Monique SAFFORD (US) / Fred TOMASELLI (US) / Will VILLALONGO (US) Phoebe WASHBURN (US) / Saya WOOLFALK (US) / Miwa YANAGI (JA)
Back to the Garden
08/10 – 11/27/2009
60 Wall Gallery, Deutsche Bank, 60 Wall Street, NYC.
Open to the public by appointment only