NYBG: Monet's Garden

This evolving tribute to Claude Monet proffers a new way of seeing the artist and his work. Positioning his gardens not only as the inspiration behind some of his best-known paintings but as veritable works of art in themselves, the exhibition delves into Monet's deliberate aesthetic creation of his gardens and recounts several anecdotes showing that he effectively curated these natural spaces.


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All photos by the author unless otherwise noted. If you're interested, the benches are on sale in the shop.

As in last fall's re-creation of the gardens of the Alhambra, the show spans the NYBG's available exhibition spaces. The Rondina/LoFaro Gallery offers intriguing photographs and documents relating to the gardens' realization (above). You'll also find two of Monet's paintings, one of them never before seen in the U.S. In the Ross Gallery—downstairs in the same building—Elizabeth Murray exhibits her painterly "photographic portraits" of Monet's garden as it appears today.


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However the real experiential pleasure of the show stems (har har) from the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory. Here Monet's garden lives in a manifestation so beautifully resplendent with color and variety that it actually hurt. While I might have been hard-pressed to spontaneously recall the specific flowers of Monet's paintings (water lilies aside), a deep familiarity resonated within me when I entered this area. Do you remember the scene in Disney's Mary Poppins when she, Bert, and the children jump into and through sidewalk chalk drawings? Upon entering the Conservatory, I literally felt as though I had stepped through the frame into one of Monet's canvases.


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Click thumbnails for larger images

Interspersed among the gardens surrounding the conservatory are placards featuring poetry by literary members of Monet's social circle. A wide suite of programs includes poetry readings as well as music, films, and opportunities to make art that round out even more fully this already interdisciplinary exhibition. NYBG actively solicits additional audience participation via Twitter, Foursquare, Pinterest, and Instagram.

They've also teamed up with the Met to craft a pretty nifty (free) app available through iTunes. I only explored it after the fact, but would have found it useful during my visit. Divided into two segments, the first part of the app offers site specific commentary, and at points in the Conservatory shows pictures corresponding to the surrounding recreation of the gardens. These images—both archival and current, by the aforementioned Elizabeth Murray—thus enhance one's appreciation of just how effective this recreation is. The app tour suggests visitors start in the Conservatory and end in the Rondina Gallery, though I did the reverse and found it just as (or perhaps more) desirable for the context it provides. And while you can view the itinerary as either a list or on a map, you can't use either to navigate between stops, though it seems intuitive to do so. Instead you must use the forward and back arrows to skip through their prescribed order. The second half of the app pairs Monet paintings at the Met with NYBG photographs of the depicted plants (and indications of where to find them); both aspects offer substantial and interesting information and, with external links to the paintings on the Met website, allow an opportunity to learn far more about Monet from an artistic point of view.


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Fulfilling as this exhibition was the first time around, it may be well worth a return trip as the gardens change with the seasons. They should be particularly (and appropriately) splendid now as the water lilies reach full bloom!


Monet's Garden runs from May 19 to October 21, 2012. The New York Botanical Gardens are located at 2900 Southern Blvd in the Bronx, accessible by public transportation, and open year-round, Tue. – Sun. (and Mon. federal holidays) 10am – 6pm. The All-Garden Pass includes admission to the grounds seasonal gardens, special exhibitions, the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, Everett Children’s Adventure Garden, Rock Garden, and Tram Tour: $20 for adults, $18 for seniors and students with ID, $8 for children ages 2–12, free for children under 2. A considerably less expensive Grounds-Only Pass is available, but does not include admission to special exhibitions or the aforementioned attractions: $6 for adults, $5 for adult Bronx Residents, $3 for seniors and students with ID, $1 for children ages 2–12, free for children under 2. Grounds-only admission is free all day on Wed. and Sat. from 10am – 12pm.

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Rineke Dijkstra