If you happen to go to New York City sometime in the next two months, you can take in a spectacular landscape exhibition called “Brazilian Modern: The Living Art of Roberto Burle Marx,” at the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx. The NYBG says it’s the largest botanical exhibition ever, anywhere.
According to an Associated Press story, the show celebrates the work of the landscape architect, artist and conservationist in what the story’s author described as “a dazzling display of his garden style.” It’s accompanied by music and dance performances evocative of Rio de Janeiro, the city that inspired him.
“Roberto Burle Marx was arguably the world’s most celebrated modernist landscape architect,” Todd A. Forrest, NYBG’s vice president for horticulture and living collections told the AP.
Born in 1909, Burle Marx’s career as a landscape architect began in the late 1930s. He’s credited with designing nearly 3,000 landscapes, “everything from a small estate garden to roof gardens on institutional buildings to massive urban parks,” Forrest is quoted as saying. “Most of his work was done in Brazil, but he was globally recognized for his influence.” He died in 1994.
One of the architect’s signature elements was the use of biomorphic paving patterns, with walkways functioning as part of the site’s aesthetics, not just a way through it, Forrest told the AP. In addition, the artist often used architectural elements such as walls, using diverse materials like concrete or steel.
He advocated for the use and preservation of Brazilian wild plants, taking long collecting trips into the Amazon and other areas, often ahead of logging companies or road building companies, Forrest was quoted as saying. He would identify and rescue plants that might otherwise have been lost, bringing them back and planting them in his own garden.
The landscape architect “also used the plants of the world in his designs,” Forrest told the AP reporter. “His designs are well known for their stunning tropical plant forms,”
In the article, Forrest went on to explain that Marx had an exuberant personality and was talented in all kinds of artistic pursuits. He was a visual artist, creating drawings, paintings, tapestries and mosaics, with the same modern abstract style seen in his landscapes — and was reportedly a great singer as well.
“There’s a sense of scale and drama that links his landscapes to the broader landscape surrounding it,” Forrest told the AP. “There’s a strength of design, a boldness to it. You see large blocks of color. And there are often water features.”
From the outdoor garden, the exhibit moves indoors with a display of many of the two dozen plants named after, and in many cases discovered by, Burle Marx himself. The next segment of the show takes place outdoors in the water garden, with a mix of Brazilian and other tropical water lilies amid dramatic plantings.
In 1964 the military took over the Brazilian government. But Burle Marx remained in the country while many of his colleagues fled, continuing to advocate for the preservation of Brazil’s natural heritage. He was way ahead of his time, and courageous, Forrest told the AP.
The show ends with an exhibit of 14 of Burle Marx's artworks created from the 1950s to the 1980s. They feature an array of media and are done with vivid colors and shapes.
“He was turning to abstraction during that time, when there was an oppressive regime,” Joanna Groarke, NYBG’s curator of library exhibitions told the AP.
The exhibition runs through Sept. 29.