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Garden Party 

Chagall, Hockney, Mapplethorpe, O’Keeffe,
Prendergast, Rivers, Rosenquist, Tiffany, More!

March 8 - July 6, 2014

The first garden was Eden - a setting of flowers and plants for the creation of our world and mankind. Ever since, we have cultivated gardens simply for their beauty or for the sustenance they provide as food. Flowers have served as inspiration for painters and poets from time immemorial. From the mundane to the exquisite, flowers enhance every facet of our lives. Their physical expression may be found in gardens and outdoor parties of every kind, from the humblest to the most elegant 18th-century fête champêtre.

Garden Party is on view from March 8, 2014 to July 6, 2014. The exhibition is organized by guest curators Franklin Hill Perrell, the museum’s former senior curator, and JoAnne Olian, curator emeritus at the Museum of the City of New York. Garden Party explores the imagery of outdoor entertainments and garden parties through paintings, sculpture, costume, fabrics and decorative arts and designs.

In Garden Party, the curators have assembled a bouquet of paintings illustrating the appeal of flowers in every season. The project also takes advantage of the museum’s incomparable 145-acre property, richly embellished with beautiful gardens and sculpture. This exhibition of gardens and flowers in an array of styles is organized thematically by season, beginning with a stunning portrayal of spring through a monumental mural by Robert Kushner. Works by artists from many different traditions are on view, including Nell Blaine, Charles Burchfield, Marc Chagall, George Deem, Janet Fish, Jane Freilicher, Martin Johnson Heade, David Hockney, Robert Mapplethorpe, Georgia O’Keeffe, Maurice Prendergast, Larry Rivers, James Rosenquist and Louis Comfort Tiffany.

The works in the exhibition portray floral images as objects of enjoyment and pure visual pleasure, the recreation of a natural paradise envisioned since antiquity and perpetually recreated in gardens, the nuances of horticulture, floral arrangements and flower motifs in fashion and decorative art. The prevalence of floral imagery in costume design is demonstrated with dresses designed by de la Renta, Mainbocher, and Traina-Norell, as well as in the motifs of exquisite Judith Leiber evening bags.

Highlights of the show include spectacular installations, beginning with Kushner's 47-foot multi-panel piece done on gold leaf. First prominent in the 1970s, Kushner is a key artist in the pattern and decoration movement. Georgia O' Keeffe's Coxcomb, 1931, offers an example of how a traditional theme is interpreted in a modernist mode.

Plants and animals recall the first garden, beginning with Richard Gachot's Adam and Eve, Hunt Slonem's imposing sculptures of wildlife, birds and tropical plants; and Janet Fish's Monkey Business, where a leaping monkey disrupts a splendidly arrayed outdoor table laden with flowers and fruit.

Among the many enchanting works on view in Garden Party are Rosenquist's Sister Shreik, one of his classic representations of females and flowers; Prendergast’s The Promenade, n.d., a post-impressionist painting of a garden party with costumed women in a setting of nature; Chagall's Le Repos, c. 1980 with its essential bouquet; and Ben Schonzeit's spectacular photorealist still life, Fred and Ginger Rose, 1997.

The Garden Party idea pervades the selections: flowers are themselves festive in character, and uplifting to the spirit, ever attesting to the life force and nature's generou and spontaneous beauty. Floral patterns, often used in fashion and décor, affirm our innate desire to capture such loveliness. We intuitively recognize that flowers are a universal symbol of life and well being.

Opening on Saturday, March 8, Garden Party, along with the first daffodils, is a colorful, festive harbinger of spring.

Dean Cornwell
An Old Fashioned Picnic, 1917
Oil on canvas
16 x 37 inches
Private Collection