Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Four Seasons Turned into Giant Sculptures

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Four Seasons Turned into Giant Sculptures

Article excerpt

People go to the Bronx Botanical Garden to see the changing features of the seasons, but in a new art installation at the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, those features are rendered as giant facial features.

Spring grins at us with snow-bell blossom teeth. Summer's cheeks are plump ripe peaches. Autumn's bulbous visage looks like a basket of pumpkins and gourds, while winter is an old man of gnarled wood and withered vines.

Welcome to "Four Seasons," a work by contemporary filmmaker and artist Philip Haas, who somehow had the idea to turn a suite of paintings by a 16th-century mannerist painter into 15-foot-tall fiberglass sculptures. The outlandish constructions stand on the rectangular terrace behind the Victorian-style greenhouse, neatly framed by boxwood hedges. As with all the garden's exhibits, there is serious botanical content, but in character this belongs to the tradition of comic grotesque.

The artist responsible for the original imagery was named Giuseppe Arcimboldo. He was a visual jester from a quirky slot in art history - mannerism - when the culture, sated on Renaissance perfection, was ready for the bizarre, the silly and the disproportioned. He was technically a still-life painter. A typical work looks at first glance like an opulent fruit basket. At second glance it comes alive as a human face. Arcimboldo did other series, such as one on the four elements, where he constructed faces out of birds, fish and mammals, but his vegetal faces remain the best known.

Though popular in his time, Arcimboldo's works fell into relative obscurity until they were rediscovered by 20th-century surrealists like Max Ernst and Salvador Dali, who somewhat heavy-handedly borrowed his technique.

Haas, director of numerous art documentaries and several feature films, including the 1995 "Angels and Insects," farmed out the actual creation of the works to special-effects fabricators. The artists copied as much as could be seen from the two-dimensional paintings and inferred the rest to render them three-dimensional.

"The art historians who come to look at them are always curious to see the other sides," said Haas, who was on hand for the opening of the exhibit. …

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