- Exhibition: Gärten Der Welt (“Gardens of the World”)
Museum Rietberg, Zürich, Switzerland
May 13–October 9, 2016
Set in the 19th century landscape garden of the Rietberg Park, this exhibition overlapped with the 2016 European Council of Landscape Architecture Schools (ECLAS) conference, held September 11–14 in nearby Rapperswil, and was recommended viewing for attendees. Offered as “a stroll through the gardens of the world and the history of garden culture” (according to the exhibition’s website), the exhibition’s scope was relatively broad—extending beyond gardens to include anything not considered “first nature”—yet it covered the canonical high points across a somewhat limited geographical and temporal spectrum. [End Page 92]
The bulk of the exhibition filled the lowest subterranean, floor of the Smaragd pavilion—“Emerald” (completed in 2007) designed by Alfred Grazioli and Adolf Krischanitz—which is located adjacent to the 19th century Villa Wesendonck. The exhibition spaces comfortably meandered throughout this floor and were curated according to various themes, locations, and time periods, reflecting the inherent difficulty of neatly identifying a consistent system of organizing garden history across millennia. While the exhibition was billed as portraying a “history of garden culture,” this history was limited to the Middle East, Europe, and Asia from the 2nd century BCE to the 19th century CE. The earliest gardens were grouped under the theme of “Paradise,” and included examples from the Christian and Buddhist traditions. Subsequent spaces focused on ancient gardens from Egypt, Assyria, and Persia. The exhibition celebrated the museum’s commission of an interactive three-dimensional digital model of the noted garden by the ancient Egyptian noble Sennefer. Exhibition visitors used an iPad providing plan images of the garden, pavilions and trees extruded into three dimensions; this accessible digital model allowed visitors who were unaccustomed to viewing plans to imagine the garden’s spaces.
The brief survey of ancient gardens from the Middle East were followed by a longer survey of European gardens through the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, and the Baroque. The exhibition’s strengths—the display of rare manuscript copies and the inclusion of contemporary artists’ reflections on gardens—were first seen displayed in these spaces. For example, alongside a discussion of the hortus conclusus, visitors were treated to a copy of the 14th century Ruralia Commoda by Petrus de Crescentiis, a manuscript on agriculture, horticulture, and gardening, and representative of the exhibition’s breadth of scope. An exhibition space dedicated to the Villa d’Este was accompanied by a showing of Eaux d’artifice, a 1953 film by Kenneth Anger shot on location at the Renaissance garden.
The focus on Europe—ending with an extended presentation of Versailles—was followed by extensive exhibition spaces dedicated to garden culture in China, Japan, and Korea, a treatment in line with the museum’s overall focus on non-European culture. Seventeenth-century drawings of The Lingering Garden by Zhang Hong and 16th century drawings of the Garden of the Inept Administrator by Wen Zhengming were displayed near Ai Weiwei’s installation Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads (2010). Collaged photographs of the Ryoan-ji garden by David Hockney (1983) were displayed alongside drawings of the garden by John Cage (1983). One of the most popular elements of the exhibition was a nearly 14 minute-long, 8-channel digital video animation by Lee-Nam Lee (2015) of Yang San-bo’s 16th century Hermit’s Garden in South Korea, displayed on an eight-fold screen. What at first glance appeared to be eight static traditional paintings were revealed—after patient viewing—to be eight monitors which evocatively portrayed the changes the garden undergoes over the four seasons.
The exhibition continued with British and German landscape gardens including Stourhead, Rousham, and Wörlitz, portrayed through plans and contemporary photography. Hidden in an enlarged stairwell was the exhibition’s end to its chronological survey, a brief review of “Romantic Gardens.” These exhibits focused on German gardens inspired by the British landscape gardens, showcasing Prince Hermann von Pückler-Muskau‘s work at Muskau Park and Branitz.
What had been an anticlimactic end to the exhibition’s...