Known for imaginative outdoor art exhibitions, the Atlanta Botanical Garden will launch Four Seasons, an exhibition of four 15-foot-tall portrait busts composed of vegetables, flowers, fruits and vines. It will run from May through September.
Artist Philip Haas, who was inspired by eccentric Renaissance painter Giuseppe Arcimboldo, is better known as a filmmaker (credits include Angels and Insects, Up at the Villa and The Situation). In fact, Winter, Summer, Spring and Fall are his first-ever sculptures.
Haas made his maiden foray into the art world in 2009 contributing multi-screen film narratives that accompanied five works of art to Butchers, Dragons, Gods & Skeletons at the Kimbell Art Museum in Houston. Time magazine cited it as one of the top 10 art exhibitions of 2009.
“Having done the show at the Kimbell, which integrated sculpture and architecture with film material, I had an appetite to do something that didn’t have film but was three dimensional,” Haas said in a recent telephone conversation. “I started with an idea to do something in a garden, something outdoors because the Kimbell show was all interior installations. I don’t know if it’s because Arcimboldo starts with A, but he quickly came to mind.”
He had a clay model made of his design for Winter, which was then scaled up and fabricated in fiberglass. Haas chose the material not only because it was durable but also, he said, “We were also trying to make it look absolutely real, and you can achieve that with fiberglass.”
When Winter premiered at the National Gallery in 2009, it attracted the attention of several museums and botanical gardens. As a group, the Dulwich Picture Gallery (UK), New York Botanical Garden, Atlanta Botanical Garden, Desert Botanical Garden (Phoenix) and Nelson-Atkins Museum (Kansas City) asked Haas to create the other three seasons and offered financial help with production costs. The museums are among the stops on the Four Seasons tour.
Haas noted that the works respond to their environment. In the Phoenix desert, for instance, the pieces blended in so naturally that the cucumber nose on Summer seemed to resemble a cactus. It looked dramatically different in New York. “The garden was keen for it to be in the courtyard,” said Haas, “because the juxtaposition of the sculptures against the 19th-century architecture and the hedging made for a very strong tableaux.”
Although Haas maintains that he’s done with making movies, he does see connections between the two genres. “There’s a theatricality and operatic quality to Four Seasons that you might find in my film work,” he said. And similarities in modus operandi: “I come up with an idea, and I have other people collaborate with me on the making of it. So I’m ‘directing’ sculpture.”