David Hartt: A Colored Garden
Now in its second season, David Hartt: A Colored Garden has expanded to include a new exhibition of paintings and video alongside the first artist-designed garden to activate the 49-acre historic site. Reflecting on The Glass House’s recent transformation from a storied private home to a publicly accessible historic site, Hartt’s project considers the site’s potential to foreground new possibilities for social, political, and cultural engagement in the contemporary moment.
Located in the southern meadow just below the Glass House, Hartt’s circular garden spans forty feet and comprises an array of flowers — including peonies, chrysanthemums, zinnias, and phlox — that bloom sequentially, creating a variation of height, texture, and color. The selection of flowers corresponds to the plant varieties found in the paintings of Charles Ethan Porter (1847 – 1923), who was among the first Black American artists to exhibit his work nationally and the only such artist that has been recorded to specialize in still lifes at the turn of the century.
Although Porter studied in New York and worked for a time in Paris, his work is firmly rooted in and inspired by Connecticut where he spent most of his life. In an 1883 letter to Mark Twain, Porter wrote, “I am aware that there are a goodly number of my [Connecticut] friends and others who are anxious to see how the colored artist will make out, but this is not the motive which impresses me. There is something of more importance, the colored people—my people—as a race I am interested in, and my success will only add to others who have already shown wherein they are capable the same as other men.” Hartt selected the title for this work — A Colored Garden — as a provocation that signals Porter’s identification as a “colored artist” as well as the garden’s capacity to function as a metaphor for race within the landscape.
When designing the garden, Hartt took inspiration from David Whitney’s contributions to The Glass House site. As a well-known curator and Philip Johnson’s partner for over forty years, Whitney exerted considerable influence on the evolution of the landscape, including the creation of colorful gardens, many of which are no longer extant. The circular shape of the garden also echoes Johnson-designed elements within the site as well as Donald Judd’s site-specific concrete sculpture.
During the run of the project, a selection of twelve paintings by Porter will hang in the Johnson-designed Painting Gallery alongside Et in Arcadia Ego, a newly commissioned film by Hartt. Inspired by Greek mythology and Poussin’s Blind Orion Searching for the Rising Sun (1658), the film centers on Olympia, played by cellist Tomeka Reid, who also scored the film, as well as Orion, the blind giant, recast as a Black woman in glimmering chainmail. In the film, Hartt synthesizes the historical context and creative potential of the pastoral grounds with Greek legends to produce a contemporary mythology
Hartt is a visual artist whose research-based practice investigates the interplay between culture, the built environment, and the communities that shape and are shaped by these concepts. For Hartt, this project is not a form of historical recuperation. He does not seek to obscure, negate, or rewrite history, but rather to renegotiate its boundaries to invent and permit new pathways and realities.
David Hartt: A Colored Garden is organized by Cole Akers, Senior Curator and Special Projects Manager, The Glass House. The project is supported in part by the Canada Council for the Arts and the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Marge and Joe Grills Fund for Historic Gardens and Landscapes.
A concurrent exhibition featuring Hartt’s film and related works was on view at David Nolan Gallery between April 22 to June 3. The gallery, located in New York’s Upper East Side, has represented the artist for a decade, and the current presentation is the fourth exhibition of his work.
Special thanks to David Nolan Gallery and Michael Rosenfeld Gallery.
David Hartt (b. 1967, Montréal) lives and works in Philadelphia where he is an Associate Professor in the Department of Fine Arts at the University of Pennsylvania. He has an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and a BFA from the Department of Visual Arts at the University of Ottawa.
Hartt’s recent solo exhibitions include The Histories at the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, and in the forest at the Graham Foundation, Chicago. Recent group exhibitions include Reconstructions: Architecture and Blackness in America at The Museum of Modern Art, New York; America Is Hard to See at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; and Shine a light/Surgir de l’ombre: Canadian Biennial at the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa.
His work is in the public collections of The Museum of Modern Art, New York; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York; The RISD Museum, Providence; The Art Institute of Chicago; Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; The Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago; Henry Art Gallery, Seattle; The National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa; and The Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam.
In 2018 Hartt was a recipient of both a Pew Fellowship and a Graham Foundation Fellowship. He was awarded a Foundation for Contemporary Art Grant in 2015, in 2012 he was named a United States Artists Cruz Fellow and an Artadia award, and in 2011 he received a Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Award.
The Glass House, built between 1949 and 1995 by architect Philip Johnson, is a site of the National Trust for Historic Preservation located in New Canaan, CT. The pastoral 49-acre landscape comprises fourteen structures, including the Glass House (1949), and features a permanent collection of painting and sculpture alongside exhibitions, performances, and public programs. The campus serves as a catalyst for the preservation and interpretation of modern architecture, landscape, and art; and a canvas for inspiration and experimentation.
The National Trust for Historic Preservation is a privately funded nonprofit organization that works to save America’s historic places to enrich our future, reimagining historic sites for the 21st century. The guiding principle of this initiative is that historic sites must be dynamic, relevant, and evolving to foster an understanding of history and culture that is critical, sensory, and layered.