Orchids with a Brazilian flair
The New York Botanical Garden’s orchid show this year honors the father of modern landscape architecture, Roberto Burle Marx.
“Fusion” is a hot concept in cuisine and music. Now it’s migrated to horticulture. “The Orchid Show: Brazilian Modern” at The New York Botanical Garden through April 12 is a fusion of Victorian-era taste (with its mania for orchids displayed in a glass conservatory) and modernism, specifically the swooping, swinging art forms of contemporary Brazil.Skip to next paragraph
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Miami-based landscape architect Raymond Jungles (with a name like that, could he be anything else?) designed the show as an homage to his mentor, Roberto Burle Marx, a painter by training, who died 15 years ago at age 84.
In Rio de Janeiro, Marx was renowned as an artist, garden designer, plant collector, defender of the rain forest, and all-round bon vivant. After Mr. Jungles graduated from the University of Florida in 1981, Marx took the younger man under his wing. Marx’s revolutionary aesthetic still nourishes his protégé like rich compost.
Marx received the American Institute of Architects’ fine-arts prize in 1965, labeling him “the real creator of the modern garden.” He earned this accolade by using tropical flora in free-form designs, collaborating with such modernist masters as Le Corbusier and Oscar Niemeyer. He linked abstract art with landscape, using the earth as his canvas.
Before Marx, Brazilian gardens mimicked European prototypes with formal parterres, razor-sharp boxwood hedges, and straight paths outlining beds of nonnative flowers like roses and dahlias.
After Marx, public gardens and parks in Brazil were bold, stylized but nonfussy compositions of tropical flora.
Jungles defines the modernist garden pioneered by Marx as “a break from tradition. There are no clipped hedges or bilateral symmetry. Instead, there’s an asymmetric balance, using cubist and sculptural elements versus the more conventional statues and urns.”
His master plans for gardens began as gouache paintings, which “look wonderfully organic and related to the contours but they’re really not,” Mr. Treib says. “They’re abstractions that are superimposed upon the contours, and that tension makes them fantastic.”
Marx was not only a painter but a sculptor. One of his works is on display at the Orchid Show, a colorful 8-by-17-foot abstract mosaic of ceramic tiles. Jungles plants it amid feathery palms, “Dancing Lady” (Oncidium) orchids, and spiky bromeliads.