Suzanne Lemberg Usdan Gallery
One College Drive
Bennington, VT, 05201
Tuesdays-Saturdays, from 1:00-5:00 pm
Patricia Johanson: House & Garden | February 25-May 9 2020
Patricia Johanson: House & Garden Opening Reception | February 25
Usdan Gallery is proud to present the complete House & Garden drawing series by ecological artist Patricia Johanson ’62, a seminal project produced fifty years ago but never before exhibited in its entirety. Inspired by a 1969 commission from House & Garden magazine, the 146 drawings of garden prototypes show the range and depth of Johanson’s prescience in considering environmental issues of urgency today, such as erosion, flooding, landfills, and water conservation, as well as larger questions of the relationship between humans and nature. Drafted on 8 1/5-by-11-inch sketchbook paper in graphite and colored pencil, the modestly scaled drawings gain potent beauty and historical significance when viewed as a cohesive series. The House & Garden exhibit situates the artist among her conceptualist peers of the 1960s and ’70, forecasts her current work on large-scale urban infrastructure projects that function as art and landscape, and contributes to the growing, overdue recognition being accorded Johanson’s generation of women land-art pioneers.
Johanson was an emerging star in minimalist painting when an architect with House & Garden invited her to design a domestic garden for its pages. Ignited by research into the history of gardening, the artist restlessly sketched and wrote about ideas stretching far beyond the backyard, proposing initiatives such as giant gardens shaped like insects, highways with parks for grazing sheep, and a wildlife network spanning North America like a web. The magazine declined to publish any of it, yet the project reoriented Johanson’s career toward studies in engineering and architecture and a renowned practice designing functional urban artworks that create habitats for people and wildlife. Originally a burst of radical imaginings completed over nine months, the House & Garden Commission has, fascinatingly, served as Johanson’s wellspring for decades. The artist has consulted the drawings and texts for built projects including Fair Park Lagoon, Dallas (1981-86); Endangered Garden, San Francisco (1987-97); Petaluma Wetlands Park and Ellis Creek Recycling Facility, California (2001-09); and The Draw at Sugar House, Salt Lake City (2002-18); as well as two current projects: Mary’s Garden, a remediation of mine-scarred land in Scranton, Pennsylvania; and a conversion of parking lots to wetlands at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada.
The House & Garden drawings form the centerpiece of the Usdan Gallery installation, which follows the chronological sequence of Johanson’s related essays on “Line Gardens,” “Vanishing Point Gardens,” “Artificial Gardens,” “Illusory Gardens,” “Water Gardens,” “Highway Gardens”, and “Garden-Cities”. This arrangement shows the evolution of Johanson’s thinking while foregrounding the nonhierarchical, integrated aspect of the series, in which design and conceptual elements move among categories. As Johanson developed many of her ideas at Bennington, working closely with faculty Paul Feeley and Tony Smith and mentored by artists such as fellow alumna Helen Frankenthaler ’49, the gallery also offers a sampling of works and ephemera that set the stage for the artist’s pivotal activity with House & Garden. Included is the film Stephen Long, about Johanson’s 1968 experimental construction of a 1,600-foot-long stretch of plywood, painted red, yellow and blue, along an abandoned railway bed in Upstate New York; it was this sculpture that prompted architect James Fanning to contact Johanson about the magazine commission. A special publication of the artist’s House & Garden essays accompanies the exhibit.
Patricia Johanson lives and works in Buskirk, New York. Her work is included in public collections such as the Dallas Museum of Art; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; and the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, DC. Her awards include fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. Her work has been the subject of books and catalogues including A Field Guide to Patricia Johanson’s Works: Built, Proposed, Collected & Published by Sue Spaid; Art and Survival: Patricia Johanson’s Environmental Projects by Caffyn Kelly, with an introduction by Lucy Lippard; and Patricia Johanson’s House and Garden Commission: Reconstruction of Modernity, by Xin Wu.
Patricia Johanson: House & Garden is curated by Usdan Gallery director Anne Thompson.
Image: Patricia Johanson, Stars + Fireflies (The Union of Heaven + Earth), detail, from the House & Garden Commission, 1969. Courtesy of the artist.
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Anne Thompson is Director and Curator of Usdan Gallery.