Feb 29, 2012

of Things

Listening to Dan Snow is always an illuminating experience.  On Saturday, he spoke about Nature in Art at ET Modern, a gallery run by Edward Tufte in Chelsea.  I was completely satisfied at the end of Dan's talk.  But I sat in the luxurious chair provided.  Tufte took the floor. He was about to begin one of his monthly "forums". 

Tufte is an expert in the presentation of informational graphics, includng informational design and visual literacy.  His books, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information and Visual Explanations have become must-reads for anyone in the field.    Currently, Tufte wears two hats.  He is still teaching courses in information graphics, but devotes most of his time to making installation art.  He does not produce outsider art, but he is an outsider in the art world.

How someone with degrees in political science, statistics and computer science approaches making art is the crux of what I wanted to find out.  I have heard a lot of artists talk about their work, but none have discussed the air spaces that animate their work. The stone walls that Dan Snow is building for Tufte are called "Silent Walls."  Air and light are as much a material of the work as the stones.

The way people access a work of art, their physical path, Tufte believes should be non-directional.  He believes in subtle prompts.  His gallery has works displayed in a non-linear style.  The set-up of chairs, sofas and rugs beckons the viewer to do as they like.  This is part of his theory of how people see.  Everyone has their own cognitive style and that style should not be engineered by a specific path.   Tufte is as interested in making art as he is in re-framing the way we experience art.

In a recent article by Jonathan Franzen in The New Yorker entitled, A Rooting Interest:  Edith Wharton and the problem of sympathy, Franzen begins "The older I get, the more I'm convinced that a fiction writer's oeuvre is a mirror of the writer's character." This is the way I felt about Tufte's  art.  His origins in the visual display of information inspire the art he makes. 

www.inthecompanyof stone

Feb 20, 2012

The Original Facebook

"It has been said the Renaissance
witnessed the recovery of the individual."
from Metropolitan Museum catalog, The Renaissance Portrait from Donatello to Bellini

"Those who wish never to be forgotten
by the world, let them come to be portrayed by Pisanello."
Ottaviano delgi Ubaldini

26, Turkish, single

"I have been exposed to violence since my childhood, sometimes physically, sometimes psychologically.  I feel very weak and worthless.  Despite my motivation to live, I see things happening that I cannot prevent.  I can't stop thinking that my life has been stolen.  Sometimes I blame myself for letting these things happen.  I have been in the shelter for a month.  I want to start a new life.  I don't know if I can.  But despite everything, I am beginning to feel strong again here."

34, Serbian, married two children

"In the beginning I thought that his jealously was a sign of love, so I ignored the violence.  I loved him and believed that the violence would eventually stop.  During the war, however, it became worse.  I am Serbian and he is Muslim: my nationality became a new reason for him to abuse me.  I went through hell.  He brought home his war companions and forced me to kiss their boots while they called me a Serbian whore.  After spending twelve days in the hospital, I decided to take my children and leave.  I am in a shelter now, and I hope to change my life".

SANJA IVEKOVIC: Sweet Violence, MoMA

Going to a show at a museum is a visual experience for me.  I am not one for reading the information supplied on the walls, that comes later. 

The two pieces above are part of a work called "Women's House"  by the artist, feminist and activist, Sanja Ivekovic.   The visuals are from sunglass ads for  Gucci, Prada, Calvin Klein, etc..  The words are quotes from various women residing in shelters throughout Europe.
The work of Sanja Ivekovic seemed dated, not because the pieces go back to the 1970's, but because the obvious feminist content did not transcend the boundaries of its politics. I found the work entirely forgettable, except for  these simple declarative sentences by women whose lives are lived on the edge.

That was Saturday. 
On Sunday, I wandered over to the Met and tackled the exhibition, exhibition
Renaissance Portrait from Donatello to Bellini.   As I went from room to room, I thought about the contrast between the Ivekovic's narrative portraits and portraits of the artists of 15th century Italy.  Looking at these pictures you don't know the specifics of a life lived, but you still know a lot.  You know if they were haughty or humble,  an optimist or pessimist, a secretive or transparent person, a conqueror or survivor, a skeptic or an innocent, and on and on. 

We prefer the photograph today, we think it tells us everything about a person we need to know.  The exhibit at Met shows us everything we need to know and then some.

Feb 17, 2012

The Artful

Steve Jobs agonized over buying a sofa.  I can understand his ruminations.  If you are going to buy anything, why not buy something that is well-designed.  In my mind the same goes for seed packets.  As I make my list of what I will plant in my veg garden this year, I always go to the Hudson Valley Seed Library site.  Every year the "library" commissions a bunch of artists to design their seed packs.  Most of the time even if I don't want a particular variety, I am seduced by the packaging.

On February 17th The Horticultural Society of New York opens its exhibition of the original artwork created by 23 artists, whose seed packs are reproduced by the Hudson Valley Seed Library. 

Feb 16, 2012

It's All Over Now

New York Botantical Garden
February 16, 2012

No more heuchera, hakone grass, hellebores, euphorbia robbiae, anemone tomentosa, agastache ... Oh no!  What is a garden designer to do?

A couple of weeks ago Larry Weaner knocked out his "opponent" (horticulturists, garden designers and landscape architects) with the first punch.  Today, Doug Tallamy went two rounds, before he delivered a most forceful blow.  There's a war going on between the ecologists and horticulturists.  After listening to these two guys, I crossed enemy lines.  Some might say I'm a traitor, but I prefer to think of myself as a patriot.  I've sided with the future of the planet.

As Tallamy said, "We need an ecological savings account.  We need to find a way to share the planet with living things.  Let's put the plants back that feed the birds and insects.  We have to stop thinking of plants as decorations."

A lot of people who make gardens, including myself, might choose to see these guys as foes.  That old cliche about change being scary is really true.  For those of us who have been working with a diverse plant palette, loving new introductions and using plants from all over the world; this could be bad news.  I see it differently.  Once you connect the dots, there is only one conclusion you can come to.  Tallamy asked "if we were willing to re-landscape our neighborhoods?".  I am.  And I am willing to change my ways in order to do so.  Good-bye lawn!  Hello Papilio glacus (Tiger Swallowtail butterfly)!

Feb 11, 2012


Some people say I play fast and loose with a dollar.  I beg to differ.  I was skeptical about plunking down $60 for a quarterly, sight unseen.  Just the idea of a "quarterly" is pretty 19th century.  I went to the Wilder website to see what was up.  I liked the prose and decided to take the plunge.

Last Saturday, I went to a party populated by many in the hort mafia.  I took the Wilder Quarterly with me, just to see if I was the only one who had subscribed.  No one knew about the magazine, but everyone was interested.  Who was behind it?

I filled out the contact box on the Wilder website and wrote a brief message.  Sooner than you can say Wilder Quarterly, I received a response from Jessica Fouts, PR Director.

WHY Wilder Quarterly?
Our genesis story begins with Celestine Maddy, our Founder and Publisher.  She picked up gardening 3 years ago to spruce up her neglected Brooklyn yard.  As a busy advertising strategist with a love for video games, I guess you could say she isn't what many would call a "typical gardener".  When she looked for materials for research she found that there really wasn't anything that inspired her out there - and being in the line of work she's in - she couldn't help, but see a void worth filing. 

The reality is, there are plenty of "atypical" gardeners out there just like Celestine, and even more who have 20 years of gardening under their belt, who are just looking for great growing content.
 Wilder Quarterly is a print publication that is a resource for an entire season.  This suits a gardener's journey through the months.  Growers, foodies, designers are all tactile people.  It makes sense to make a very visceral product that is about smell, sight and touch.
I hear people say that print is dead and it's just silly.

People still watch TV and listen to the radio.  There are millions of magazines and books sold every year.  People want good content.  They don't care how it comes. 

What has changed is the way people ingest media.  They want it on their terms.  They want it in multiple formats.  So while we've started with a tangible product, Wilder is going to be making other types of media soon enough.  We are a content company, not just a book publisher.

Who is the intended audience?
We want to reach all growers and nature enthusiasts.  This can encompass a wide range of people,  whether you are a novice gardener who just planted your first bulb, a documentary filmmaker who has an affinity for plants, a foodie who values fresh farm to table cuisine - in essence we are a magazine about growing in all of it's diverse incarnations - for any and everyone who feels inspired by nature.

People want to know about the writers and photographers who are contributing to Wilder Quarterly.
Our writers and photographers are a mash-up of growing and non-growing writers.  We love to take a fashion photographer and have him/her shoot carrots or have a hard hitting journalist interview a hobby farmer.   At the same time, we also turn to established garden illustrators and writers like Maureen Gilmer and scientists like Elaine Ingham at Rodale. 

We are interested in inputs and pitches from anywhere and everywhere.  If anyone has an idea feel free to send to info@wilderquarterly.com

Feb 3, 2012


Featured Symposium Speaker:
Michael Dirr
My copy of the Manual of Woody Landscape Plants has gotten me through some tough times; not only identifying a tree or shrub,  but as a doorstop.  Dirr's  book, The Encyclopedia of Trees and Shurbs is a 7 pounder.  When you're not using it to lift weights, you can actually get lost in the voluminous information contained within. 

Michael Dirr is a legend in the plant world.  Even if you've never met him, he seems like an old friend.  He's that person you go to for advice about everything woody.  The expectation of everyone
at Plant-a-Rama was that Michael Dirr was going to speak about trees and shrubs.  He did not.  The focus of his talk and the panel discussion that followed was about the world of breeding, marketing, and evaluating of new plant introductions.  This is a topic I rarely consider.  In passing, Dirr mentioned that women buy 70% of all plants sold and most of these are purchased during March, April or May.  The biggest retailer of plants:  QVC. After all buying plants is a shopping experience.

Whether its 'Miss Molly,' 'Blue Heaven' 'Scarlet Storm,' 'Red Majestic,' 'Velvet Cloak,' or 'Waterlily', I find myself not really interested.  The future of breeders or nurseries is someone else's concern.  Even though I am pro-choice, I find it hard enough to make a good garden from the plants currently on the market. I don't need anymore choices.