Monday 17 June 2019

Roberto Burle Marx: a visionary landscape architect and plantsman

These pictures of lush tropical planting in bold compositions come from the exhibition currently showing at the New York Botanical Garden, celebrating the work of Roberto Burle Marx. I was lucky enough to visit the exhibition on my recent trip to  New York.

Flowing undulating shapes and swathes of colour characterise a Burle Marx garden, and in the mid-20th century this was a new look, contrasting with the formal geometric, straight-edged shapes that had been used in public and private spaces previously.
Burle Marx was an artist and landscape architect who had a massive impact on landscape design in the 20th century. Born in Brazil, he practised mainly in south America and the US: his seafront landscaping at Copacabana Beach and in Miami are internationally renowned.

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Part of Burle Marx's large-scale landscaping at Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro (Image available via Creative Commons licence.)
He was also a plantsman, travelling extensively in Brazil and south America to find and conserve rare and threatened plants, His concern for the preservation of the environment was some years ahead of his time and he was instrumental in the slowing down of the desecration of the Amazon rainforest.

Burle Marx popularised the use of bromeliads in landscape design; they were some of the many plants he found during his plant hunting excursions off the beaten track in south America.
The exhibition at the New York Botanical Garden includes both his art and his landscape designs, complete with a garden created especially for the event by Miami-based garden designer Raymond Jungles, which wonderfully evokes the spirit of Burle Marx and his love of bold planting design and architectural tropical plants.

Many of Burle Marx's best known works were in public urban spaces, but he also designed private residential gardens, with his signature single-colour beds, sculpture and geometrically designed groundwork.

Many of Burle Marx's artworks were broadly abstract but he would also create astonishingly detailed sketches for his planting designs.

This tapestry demonstrates Burle Marx's love of bold colour and shapes which are also found in his landscape designs. He was at home in many media, designing jewellery, fabrics and stage sets, as well as creating landscapes.
The Living Art of Roberto Burle Marx exhibition is at the New York Botanical Garden until Sunday September 29th. Tickets around $23.00 with concessions available.

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